The UK’s controversial policy to deport some asylum seekers to Rwanda was deemed lawful by the country’s High Court on Monday.
A group of NGOs, asylum seekers and a civil service trade union had questioned the legality of the scheme, which would see asylum seekers deemed to have entered the UK illegally sent to Rwanda to have their asylum claims processed.
The court deemed the government is able to make those arrangements. But it also criticized Home Secretary Suella Braverman for failing to properly assess the circumstances surrounding individual people set to be moved under the scheme.
Braverman “must decide if there is anything about each person’s particular circumstances which means that his asylum claim should be determined in the United Kingdom or whether there are other reasons why he should not be relocated to Rwanda,” Lord Justice Lewis said in his ruling.
She “has not properly considered the circumstances of the eight individual claimants whose cases we have considered,” the judge continued. Those eight cases will be sent back to the Home Office for Braverman to reassess, he said.
The UK government’s partnership with the East African country has been the subject of fierce criticism since it was announced by former UK Home Secretary Priti Patel in April.
It has been backed by ex-Prime Minister Boris Johnson, his successor Liz Truss and current leader Rishi Sunak, along with most of the ruling Conservative party.
But it has a host of critics, including dozens of refugee rights groups, international agencies, British lawmakers on both sides of the House of Commons, the head of the Anglican church and some Rwandan opposition politicians.
The first flight to Rwanda was set to take off on June 14, but the European Court of Human Rights stepped in at the eleventh hour, and months of legal challenges have stalled the program in the months since.
The UK says it will pay Rwanda £120 million ($145 million) over the next five years to finance the scheme.
Braverman welcomed the Monday verdict, saying in a statement that she is “committed to making this partnership work.
“My focus remains on moving ahead with the policy as soon as possible and we stand ready to defend against any further legal challenge,” she said.
But the ruling was met with disappointment from campaigners, who have long contended that the plan is unethical and ineffective.
“We are very disappointed in the outcome of this case. If the Government moves ahead with these harmful plans, it would damage the UK’s reputation as a country that values human rights and undermine our commitment to provide safety to those fleeing conflict and oppression, as enshrined in the 1951 Refugee Convention,” Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said in a statement.
“Treating people who are in search of safety like human cargo and shipping them off to another country is a cruel policy that will cause great human suffering,” Solomon added. “The scheme is wrong in principle and unworkable in practice.”
The number of people making dangerous journeys across the English Channel in small boats has spiked in recent years, with 2022 once again seeing record highs despite the government insisting that the Rwanda policy would work as a deterrent.
It remains to be seen whether the policy will now operate effectively; the prospect of individual claims on behalf of migrants still threatens to scupper Sunak’s plans to get the policy off the ground.
But the ruling will be welcomed by the government, which has sunk in popularity and lost the faith of most voters on a number of issues, according to opinion polls.