UK Home Secretary James Cleverly signed an asylum treaty Tuesday with Rwanda, in an attempt to overcome a recent ruling by the UK Supreme Court which blocked the government’s policy to send asylum seekers to the African nation. At a press conference, Cleverly insisted that “this treaty addresses all of the issues of their lordships in the Supreme Court.”
The policy was originally announced in April 2022 in an attempt to stop asylum seekers making the dangerous English Channel crossing and was part of the Conservative Party’s campaign to “stop the boats.” The government announced that they would be sending asylum seekers who entered the UK without documentation to Rwanda to have their claims assessed. The policy garnered criticism from a range of charities and NGOs and eventually led to the European Court of Human Rights stepping in to stop deportation flights. The plan then went through a series of legal challenges, ending in the UK Supreme Court, which ruled in November that Rwanda was not a safe country, and that the policy was unlawful.
Cleverly flew to Kigali and signed this latest deal with Vincent Biruta, the Rwandan Foreign Affairs Minister. The new treaty will, according to the government, ensure “that people relocated to Rwanda under the Partnership are not at risk of being returned to a country where their life or freedom would be threatened.” It also establishes a new appeal body, made up of judges from a range of nationalities, to hear individual appeals. Finally, it strengthens the Independent Monitoring Committee, which will oversee aspects such as reception conditions, asylum claim processing, and ongoing support for individuals. Cleverly said that “the Supreme Court recognised that changes may be delivered which would address their conclusions – this Treaty responds directly to that.” The government further announced legislation that will enable Parliament to confirm that Rwanda is a safe country, effectively overriding the court’s findings of fact through the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty.
However, this new treaty has been severely criticised by human rights and refugee rights groups. The Refugee Council stated that the “signing of the new Rwanda treaty, which takes away the right to a fair hearing on UK soil, effectively slams our door in the face of refugees who have lost everything. This treaty will have a devastating impact on people seeking asylum.” Detractors have also raised concerns over the economic burden of the Rwanda policy. It has cost the UK government at least £140 million, and while Cleverly has said that there was no financial incentive for this new treaty, “dealing with migration is important, and it is not a cost-free option.”