UNHCR warns that UK’s new Rwanda arrangement violates international law News
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UNHCR warns that UK’s new Rwanda arrangement violates international law

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said that the transfer of asylum seekers under the UK’s new Rwanda arrangement violates international law in a legal analysis published on Monday. The assessment provides an update to a previous UNHCR analysis of the “Legality and Appropriateness of the Transfer of Asylum-Seekers under the UK-Rwanda arrangement” conducted in June 2022, which concluded that the deal breaches international refugee law and fails to meet “the required standards relating to the legality and appropriateness of transfer of asylum-seekers.”

The UNHCR’s assessment comes following the signing of the UK-Rwanda Asylum Partnership Treaty in December 2023 and the proposal of the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill. The UK government introduced the bill after the UK Supreme Court ruled that the government’s Rwanda plan, which aims to deport “illegal” asylum seekers to Rwanda where they would have their asylum claims processed, is unlawful. The House of Commons later passed the plan.

The assessment maintained that the partnership between the UK and Rwanda is incompatible with “the fundamental principles of global solidarity and responsibility-sharing that underpin the international refugee protection system.” It stresses that the deal is an attempt at “externalization” of international protection by the UK to transfer its international obligations of protecting refugees and asylum-seekers to Rwanda. Furthermore, the UNHCR highlights in its analysis the UK Supreme Court’s judgement in which it ruled that the Rwanda deal was unlawful as evidence that the “deficiencies of the Rwandan system” increases the risk of asylum-seekers being subject to refoulement, an act prohibited under the Refugee Convention of 1951.

Moreover, the UNHCR concluded that the remedies provided by the treaty to the refoulement risks raised by the Supreme Court’s judgement may not “overcome refoulement risks, in the absence of the wider changes in structures, procedures, attitudes and understanding identified as being required by the Supreme Court.” Additionally, it states that a person’s refugee status is essential to guarantee “effective and durable protection in line with international standards.”

The UK government introduced the Safety of Rwanda Bill to declare the country as safe, which has come under heavy criticism for disapplying sections 2, 3 and 6 to 9 of the UK’s Human Rights Act 1998. In response to the bill, the Rwandan government threatened to withdraw from the treaty if the UK did not adhere to international law.