• World
  • Apr 24

Explainer - What is UK’s Safety of Rwanda Bill? Why is it controversial?

• The British Parliament passed the ‘Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill’, under which asylum seekers would be deported to Rwanda to await a decision on their applications.

• The government plans to deport to Rwanda some of those who enter the United Kingdom illegally as a deterrent to migrants who risk their lives in leaky, inflatable boats in hopes that they will be able to claim asylum once they reach Britain.

• The Bill was tabled before Parliament alongside the UK-Rwanda Asylum Partnership Treaty after the UK’s Supreme Court found that the proposed transfer of asylum seekers to the African country would breach international and UK law.

• The current legislation, also known as the Safety of Rwanda Bill, is a response to a UK Supreme Court decision that blocked the deportation flights because the government couldn’t guarantee the safety of migrants sent to Rwanda.

• After signing a new treaty with Rwanda to beef up protections for migrants, the government proposed the new legislation declaring Rwanda to be a safe country.

• British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said that deportation flights would begin in July.

• Despite Parliament’s approval of the legislation, further court challenges may still delay the deportation flights.

Why does the UK bring in such a Bill?

• Small boat crossings are a potent political issue in Britain, where they are seen as evidence of the government’s failure to control immigration.

• British PM Sunak had promised to “stop the boats” of asylum seekers from making the dangerous crossing.

• The overarching purpose of the Safety of Rwanda Bill is to deter dangerous and illegal journeys to the UK, which are putting people’s lives at risk, and to disrupt the business model of people smugglers who are exploiting vulnerable people.

• These journeys are extremely dangerous — people have lost their lives attempting to cross the UK’s busiest shipping lane in flimsy boats.

• According to the UK government, the current broken asylum system currently costs the UK some £3 billion a year and rising, including nearly £6 million a day on hotel accommodation.

• The numbers arriving on small boats in 2022 exceeded 45,700, a 60 per cent increase on the 28,500 who arrived in 2021.

• In 2023, small boat arrivals dropped to 29,437 as the government cracked down on people smugglers and reached an agreement to return Albanians to their home country.

• The UK government had noticed that large numbers of people making these dangerous journeys are from well-established safe countries, where it is clear they are not at risk of persecution.

• The people who make these journeys are manipulated by people smugglers who charge them thousands of pounds, before using this money to fund other serious crimes.

• This inexorable rise in the number of illegal arrivals adds unacceptable pressures on health, housing, educational and welfare services.

• In July 2023, the UK government cleared the Illegal Migration Bill. Under the provisions of the Bill, people who come to the UK illegally will be detained and then promptly removed, either to their home country or a safe third country like Rwanda.

• On November 15, 2023, the Supreme Court concluded that deficiencies in the government of Rwanda’s arrangements for determining asylum claims could lead to risks of refoulement.

• The Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill responds to the Supreme Court’s concerns and allows Parliament to confirm the status of Rwanda as a safe third country, thereby enabling the removal of persons who arrive in the UK under the Immigration Acts.

• This Bill builds on the objectives set out in the Illegal Migration Act, 2023, Nationality and Borders Act 2022, and the measures set out in the New Plan for Immigration, as part of a wider strategy to tackle illegal migration.

• The partnership of the UK with the government of Rwanda will now be set out in a new treaty binding in international law. The treaty has been agreed by the governments of the UK and Rwanda.

The UN raises concerns about the Bill

• The debate in Britain comes as countries throughout Western Europe and North America look for ways to slow the rising number of migrants as war, climate change and political oppression force people from their homes.

• Following the UK Parliament’s passage of the Safety of Rwanda Bill, top UN officials sounded an alarm about its harmful impact on global responsibility-sharing, human rights and refugee protection.

• 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.

• The UN officials 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.

• Last year, the UK Supreme Court had noted weaknesses in Rwanda’s system for determining individual asylum claims.

• But, the Bill and the treaty do not in practice overcome the protection gaps identified by the Supreme Court.

• Once enacted, the measures will restrict the UK courts from properly scrutinising 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 scrutinise 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.

• A fair, efficient and well-governed migration and asylum system is key to ensuring access to protection for those in need and enabling the return home of those with no lawful basis to remain.

• Acknowledging the challenges presented by the irregular movement of refugees and migrants, often in dangerous circumstances, the UN leaders nonetheless expressed grave concern that the legislation would facilitate transfers under the UK-Rwanda asylum partnership, with only limited consideration of their individual circumstances or any protection risks.

• They called on the UK instead to pursue practical cooperation with countries along the routes that refugees and migrants take, to strengthen protection and offer real alternatives. This includes expanding safe and regular pathways to protection.

• The UN officials pointed out that the new legislation is the third in a series of progressively restrictive laws that have eroded access to refugee protection in the UK since 2022, including through a ban on access to asylum or other forms of permission to stay in the UK for those arriving irregularly via a third country.

• The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights said the UK government should refrain from removing people under the Rwanda policy and reverse the Bill's effective infringement of judicial independence.

• Britain is one of 46 members of the Council of Europe and a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights.

• As such, the country is bound by rulings of the European Court of Human rights (ECHR), which is part of the Council of Europe and upholds the Convention.

Manorama Yearbook app is now available on Google Play Store and iOS App Store

Related Topics