Rwanda policy to be enshrined in law to stop human rights challenges

The Home Secretary is set to be handed a legal duty to remove illegal immigrants, returning them to their home state or a third country


The Government’s Rwanda policy is to be enshrined in a new law that could help counter legal challenges to the removal of migrants who enter the UK illegally.

The Government’s new immigration Bill is expected to place a legal duty on the Home Secretary to remove migrants who arrive illegally or enter the UK indirectly through a safe third country without permission.

It means migrants arriving in small boats across the Channel or hidden in lorries will be subject to detention and automatic deportation back to their home state or to a third country like Rwanda to claim asylum there.

The legal duty will enshrine in primary legislation the Government’s controversial policy of sending migrants on a one-way ticket to Rwanda or other third countries to claim asylum there.

Rwanda flights on hold

Flights to Rwanda have been on hold since last summer after a series of court challenges that the policy is unlawful, breaches the Refugee Convention and puts the safety of asylum seekers at risk.

high court ruling in December that the policy is lawful has been referred to the court of appeal after individual asylum seekers and charities sought to challenge it.

The policy was announced nearly a year ago by Boris Johnson and then home secretary Priti Patel without any changes to the law. Ministers believe that placing a statutory duty on the Home Secretary will strengthen the legal status of the plans and bolster the hands of the Home Offices in organising removals to Rwanda.

The planned move, which is currently being considered by Downing Street after being put forward by Home Office ministers, is part of Rishi Sunak’s proposed new laws that will “make unambiguously clear that if you enter the UK illegally you should not be able to remain here”.

“Instead, you will be detained and swiftly returned either to your home country or to a safe country where your claim for asylum will be considered,” he told MPs when announced the plans last month.

Concerns over Strasbourg influence

It echoes a similar strategy by Labour’s Tony Blair when he faced a similar crisis over a surge in illegal immigration and sought to toughen the Government’s approach.

His Government’s 2007 immigration act placed a duty on the home secretary to deport any foreign criminals who had served more than a year in jail, following successive legal challenges by human rights lawyers.

Home Office ministers are, however, still concerned that deportations will be hampered by rulings from Strasbourg, which judges take into consideration.

It is understood Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, is pushing for measures to remove the influence of the European Court of Human Rights when considering the appeals of illegal migrants.

Ministers are considering what are known as “notwithstanding clauses”, which would direct British courts to ignore ECHR rulings in specific cases, such as when a migrant requests to remain in the UK to preserve their right to a family life.

‘Nothing short of inhumane’

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said stripping migrants who had fled persecution and war of their right to claim asylum in the UK was “nothing short of inhumane”.

“They have done nothing wrong and only take dangerous journeys to reach the UK because they have no safe alternative – no safe route through which to make an asylum claim. It is appalling to treat them as criminals,” he said.

“The Government’s flawed and cruel proposals will not stop the boats but result in thousands of refugees being locked up indefinitely, permanently in limbo and being treated as criminals simply for seeking refuge.”

Colin Yeo, a leading immigration lawyer, said that detaining and removing everyone who arrived illegally was “massively impractical”.

“If the Government wins the Rwanda case, Rwanda say they’ll take a few hundred a year. So that’s a lot of people entering detention and virtually no one leaving it. That’s a lot of prison camps the Government will have to build in order to indefinitely detain the rapidly rising number of inmates,” he said