Rwanda – “the land of a thousand hills” and asylum seekers

Danielle Cohen
By Danielle Cohen Immigration Law Solicitor Linkedin
Danielle Cohen has over 20 years of experience as a lawyer and a reputation for offering professional, honest and expert advice.
17 October 2022

The new framework in the Nationality & Borders Act 2022 enables certain asylum claims to be treated as inadmissible on third country grounds.  The instructions to the Home Office only address inadmissibility decisions processed for protection claims made after 28th June 2022.

The background to this legislation was the view of Priti Patel and of her government at the time that “irregular migration from those already in safe countries undermines efforts to help those most in need and controlled resettlement via a safe legal route is the best way to protect those in need of protection and disrupt the organised crime groups that exploit migrants and refugees”.

In other words, the idea is that by making certain claims inadmissible, it will safeguard the safety of asylum seekers, the integrity of the border, and the fairness of the asylum system. It is based on the premise that asylum seekers will be deterred from coming to the UK and will make claimed protection in the first safe country they reach, deterring them from making dangerous journeys across the sea to the UK.

Following 14th April 2022, a new partnership between the UK and Rwanda was announced. Removal of individuals from the UK to Rwanda under the Migration and Economic Development Partnership (MEDP) was put in place in order to deter those who already reached safe third countries from making the journey to the UK in order to claim protection, especially those who travel by small boats across the English channel.  A consequence of this legislation is that the Home Office is not required to consider an asylum claim in respect of the person’s country of origin and can remove the person to a safe third country.

What is a safe country?

The definition of a safe country is contained in section 80B(4) of  the Nationality Immigration & Asylum Act 2002.  It states that a safe country is a country where the claimant’s life and liberty are not threatened for one of the following reasons: race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.  It is also a state from which a person will not be sent to another state in breach of the obligations under the Refugee Convention and will not act in contravention of the claimant’s right under Article 3 of the Human Rights Convention, namely freedom from torture or inhumane or degrading treatment, and that the person of course, can be recognised as a refugee if so recognised, and receive protection in accordance with the Refugee Convention in that state.

Will the policy deter unauthorised arrivals, and how much will it cost?

 The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford published commentary on 10th June 2022 stating that “there is a high degree of uncertainty about whether the policy will really deter unauthorised arrivals”. The same report asks how much will the scheme costs, and concludes that the ultimate cost of the policy is not known yet. Priti Patel, the Home Secretary at the time, said the government will send an initial £120 million up front to Rwanda to set up the scheme. However, the policy’s ultimate financial costs will be greater because it will also include per person operational costs. The Home Office data suggests, according to the Migration Observatory that the total cost of running the asylum system in the financial year 2020/2021 was around £1.36 billion, with around 115,000 people with pending asylum cases.  So in addition to the costs paid to Rwanda, there would be additional costs associated with the initial screening of applications in the UK, and carrying out removals to

Rwanda.  Enforced removals are more expensive than voluntary ones and according to the report the Home Office estimated in 2013 that the average cost of an enforced removal was £15,000 per person.

Is it legal?

The UN Refugee Agency said in a legal analysis of 8th June 2022 that the Rwanda policy is “incompatible with the letter and spirit of the 1951 Convention”.  Some of the criticism raised against the Rwanda deal concerns the country’s human rights record. It is unclear how current and prospective asylum seekers will be treated in Rwanda and it is not possible to quantify any potential deterrent effect of the policy. It is also unclear how many of those who are transferred to Rwanda will try to get back to the UK, given that the memorandum of understanding states that people will not be detained in Rwanda and will be free to leave the country if they chose to do so.

Have other countries pursued similar policies?

Few countries have pursued similar policies. Australia, Israel, and Denmark have implemented or sought policies that are comparable. The Refugee Council of Australia reported a decrease in the records of people attempting to reach Australia without authorisation by boat.  The Migration Observatory report states that it cannot be inferred from the statistics that Australia’s off-shore policy is wholly or principally responsible for the marked fall in unauthorised marine time arrivals because this policy also coincided with several other enforcement policies.

What’s in the news?

On 13th October 2022 The Guardian newspaper reported that the Home Office has threatened to send a heavily pregnant rape survivor to Rwanda. A recent report from the charity Medical Justice which analysed the cases of 36 people threatened for removal to Rwanda found that 26 showed evidence of torture, 15 showed evidence of PTSD, and 11 had suicidal thoughts.

Watch this space

It will be interesting to see how claiming asylum will develop under the new Home Secretary Suella Braverman.