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Rwanda: UN Leaders Warn of Harm from UK-Rwanda Asylum Law

The Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill was passed by the British Parliament alongside the UK-Rwanda Asylum Partnership Treaty in the early hours on April 23.

The heads of two UN agencies have again rung the alarm on the harmful impact the passage of the “Safety of Rwanda” Bill by the UK Parliament will have on global responsibility-sharing, human rights, and refugee protection.

Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and Volker Türk, the UN Human Rights chief, called on the UK government on April 23 to reconsider its plan to transfer asylum-seekers to Rwanda.

Instead, they said, the UK should take practical measures to address irregular flows of refugees and migrants based on international cooperation and respect for international human rights law.

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“The new legislation marks a further step away from the UK’s long tradition of providing refuge to those in need, in breach of the Refugee Convention,” said Grandi.

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“Protecting refugees requires all countries – not just those neighbouring crisis zones – to uphold their obligations.”

He said the UK has sought to shift responsibility for refugee protection, undermining international cooperation and setting a worrying global precedent.

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‘Sombre day’

“It’s a sombre day for refugee rights, but we won’t deviate from standing up for those rights under the Refugee Convention,” UNHCR spokesperson Matthew Saltmarsh said at an April 23 UN press conference,

The Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill was passed by the British Parliament alongside the UK-Rwanda Asylum Partnership Treaty in the early hours on April 23.

The law was passed after the UK’s Supreme Court found in 2023 that the proposed transfer of asylum-seekers to Rwanda would breach international and UK law, noting weaknesses in the Rwanda system for determining individual asylum claims.

However, the UN leaders said that the Bill and the Treaty do not, in practice, overcome the protection gaps identified by the Supreme Court.

Instead, the law will restrict the UK courts from properly scrutinizing removal decisions, leaving asylum-seekers with limited room to appeal even if they face significant risks.

“By shifting responsibility for refugees, reducing the UK’s courts’ ability to scrutinize removal decisions, restricting access to legal remedies in the UK, and limiting the scope of domestic and international human rights protections for a specific group of people, this new legislation seriously hinders the rule of law in the UK and sets a perilous precedent globally,” said Türk.

Protection of human rights

“It is critical to the protection of the human rights and dignity of refugees and migrants seeking protection that all removals from the UK are carried out after assessing their specific individual circumstances in strict compliance with international human rights and refugee law.”

Türk noted that the UK has a “proud history” of effective, independent judicial scrutiny and it can still take the right steps and implement measures to help address the factors that drive people to leave home.

UNHCR noted that while Rwanda is a generous host to refugees (135,298 as of February 2024), its asylum system needs to be strengthened.

“Regarding the evacuation of the most vulnerable refugees in Libya to the Emergency Transit Mechanism (ETM) in Rwanda, this programme is emergency, temporary, and voluntary in nature and serves a very specific, limited purpose.”

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