Protesters hold placards

Protesters hold placards as they wait for the verdict on whether the U.K. government can send refugees to Rwanda, as they gather outside The Supreme Court on November 15, 2023 in London.

(Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images)

British Supreme Court Rules UK Can't Deport Refugees to Rwanda

"The only responsible, effective, and decent response to this judgement should be to get down to the serious task of fairly and efficiently determining people's claims," said one rights advocate.

Rights advocates in the United Kingdom on Wednesday called on the Conservative government to finally abandon its efforts to detain and deport asylum-seekers after the British Supreme Court ruled that a proposal to send refugees to the East African country of Rwanda violated domestic and international law and could not move forward.

Speaking for five justices on the court, Justice Robert Reed said the Supreme Court agreed with an earlier ruling by the British Court of Appeal, which had found that refugees sent to Rwanda faced a significant risk of refoulement, or being sent back to the countries where they originally fled persecution or violence.

"We agree with their conclusion," said Reed.

The judge pointed out that Britain follows the legal principle of non-refoulement under the United Nations Refugee Convention and several other international agreements.

"It is a core principle of international law, to which the United Kingdom government has repeatedly committed itself on the international stage," Reed said.

Despite this fact, former Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the plan to send asylum-seekers to Rwanda in 2022, and his successor, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, pledged to follow through on the effort.

The government has already paid Rwanda 140 million pounds (nearly $175 million) with the intention of deporting anyone who used "illegal, dangerous, or unnecessary methods" to reach the U.K., including on small boats. More than 45,000 people crossed the English Channel on small vessels in 2022.

A deportation flight was scheduled for June 14, 2022, but a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights forced the government to ground the plane, which was carrying a man who had sought refuge in England after leaving Iraq. Subsequent legal challenges kept other refugees from being sent to Rwanda.

Former Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who was fired this week after saying unhoused people had made a "lifestyle choice" and claiming London police were biased toward pro-Palestinian rights protesters, had said it was her "dream" to send refugees to Rwanda and had pushed for the U.K. to exit the European Convention on Human Rights in order to move forward with the policy.

"That 'dream' has just been ruled to be unlawful by the Supreme Court," said Member of Parliament Zarah Sultana. "Let's make sure that's the end of these cruel and callous anti-migrant policies."

Agnes Callamard, secretary-general of Amnesty International, called the ruling one piece of good news in an "ocean of horrific sufferings."

Amnesty International U.K.'s chief executive, Sacha Deshmukh, called on new Home Secretary James Cleverly to "not only abandon the idea of doing a deal with Rwanda, but to scrap the underlying policy of refusing to process people's asylum claims and the Illegal Migration Act that has entrenched that dismal policy."

The law, which passed in July, states that anyone who arrives in the U.K. via small boats or other "unsafe" methods will have their asylum claim deemed "inadmissable."

"This policy has made complete chaos of the U.K.'s asylum system and this shameful deal has simply exacerbated the mess," said Deshmukh. "The only responsible, effective, and decent response to this judgement should be to get down to the serious task of fairly and efficiently determining people's claims."

"The idea that the U.K. should withdraw from the European Convention to pursue this failed policy is nonsensical and should be immediately binned," he added. "The government should make policies which fit with the law, not fit the law around their policies."

Nearly 130 U.K. rights organizations signed a joint statement on Wednesday welcoming the Supreme Court's ruling and and urging the government to "protect the rights of people who have come to our country in search of sanctuary."

"While we welcome the decision today, we remain concerned by this government's overall treatment of people who move to their country," said the groups, including the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), the Scottish Refugee Council, and the Muslim Council of Britain. "We know that as a community we are compassionate and welcoming, and we need immigration policies that are rooted in that same care, compassion, and respect for human rights."

The JCWI noted that Sunak's government could still try to move forward with the Rwanda deal "in a different form, such as a treaty which would need to go through Parliament."

"Our fight continues!" said the group. "Although immediate removal risks are reduced, challenges persist. Let's resist hostile policies and safeguard the universal right to seek asylum in the U.K."

Join Us: News for people demanding a better world

Common Dreams is powered by optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter makes the difference.

Your contribution supports this bold media model—free, independent, and dedicated to reporting the facts every day. Stand with us in the fight for economic equality, social justice, human rights, and a more sustainable future. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.