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The asylum partnership arrangement

The UK and Rwanda agreed a Migration and Economic Development Partnership in April 2022. It includes a five-year ‘asylum partnership arrangement’ as detailed in a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by the Home Secretary and Rwanda’s Minister for Foreign Affairs.

The asylum arrangement allows the UK to send some people to Rwanda who would otherwise claim asylum in the UK. Rwanda will consider them for permission to stay or return to their country of origin. They will not be eligible to return to the UK.

In return, the UK is providing £120 million funding to Rwanda. It will also pay for the processing and integration costs for each relocated person. Ministers expect these will be similar to asylum processing costs in the UK. The UK has also committed to resettling an unspecified number of vulnerable refugees currently in Rwanda.

‘Inadmissible’ to the UK’s asylum system

The Home Office is initially using the relocation agreement to remove people who make dangerous journeys to the UK and are considered ‘inadmissible’ to the UK’s asylum system. Inadmissibility applies to people who pass through or have a connection with a safe country, including people who make irregular journeys across the English Channel. People who arrived in the UK from 9 May are being prioritised for consideration for relocation.  

The asylum arrangement with Rwanda is part of a broader package of asylum reforms. The Government wants to discourage people who make irregular journeys to the UK and do not claim asylum in other safe countries. It also cites objectives to improve the fairness and efficacy of the asylum system and prevent loss of life on journeys to the UK.

Only a subset of inadmissible cases will be relocated to Rwanda (or other safe third countries). For example, the UK will consider inadmissible asylum claims belonging to people who are unsuitable for removal, or if their removal is impossible within a realistic timeframe.

Outstanding questions

There are several unknowns about the arrangement and its likely outcomes. For example, the Home Office has not modelled its potential impact on the number of asylum claims in the UK. It has not published estimates of the number of people it expects to relocate or published detailed costings for the policy. It has confirmed that unaccompanied children and EU and Rwandan nationals will not be relocated. It is unwilling to identify publicly any other cohorts that it might consider un/suitable for relocation.

Some commentators have queried how the parties to the agreement and individuals subject to its provisions will be able to enforce compliance or pursue redress if commitments made in the MoU are not adhered to. The MoU is not legally binding, is not justiciable in a court of law and does not confer rights or obligations.

Controversy

The UK and Rwandan governments are promoting the arrangement to UN agencies and other countries as an innovative solution for a “broken” international refugee protection regime. They contend it will deter criminality, exploitation and abuse and support the humane and respectful treatment of refugees.

But the deal is controversial and has been criticised by a broad range of domestic and international stakeholders. Some Conservative MPs have voiced doubts about its legality, practicality, and value for money.

Asylum rights advocates have practical concerns about the arrangement and Rwanda’s suitability as a host country. They also object in principle to the use of ‘externalisation’ policies and consider that the deal undermines the post-WW2 international protection regime. The UN Refugee Agency and other refugee law experts have questioned whether the deal is compatible with the UK’s obligations under refugee and human rights laws.

Legal challenges

People facing relocation to Rwanda can bring individual challenges to the policy’s application in their cases.

Some groups opposed to the policy have also initiated challenges to the lawfulness of the policies and procedures underpinning the UK-Rwanda deal. A related judicial review is scheduled to be heard in the High Court in mid-July. The hearing is due to last three days and a decision is expected by the end of July.

The first removal flight to Rwanda had been scheduled to leave on 14 June. In the days leading up to 14 June the number of people due to fly reduced to single figures. Many people had their removal directions cancelled, either by the Home Office or after their individual cases had been scrutinised by the courts.

Some of the organisations and individuals seeking judicial review of the Rwanda policy applied for injunctions to prevent removals to Rwanda prior to the outcome of their challenges. The UK courts refused the injunction applications. But on 14 June the European Court of Human Rights granted injunctions to some individuals who were still due to fly, under its ‘Rule 39’ procedures. These decisions led to the Home Office cancelling the flight very shortly before its departure.

Parliamentary scrutiny

The UK-Rwanda MoU is publicly available but the Government has not placed it before Parliament for a vote or formal scrutiny. It is a type of non-binding arrangement that is not a treaty. It does not create any legal obligations between the parties and so does not fall under the parliamentary scrutiny requirements of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010.

The constitutional position on whether the Government should lay non-binding MoUs before Parliament for scrutiny is less certain than the requirements for treaties. The Government does not consider that there is a constitutional convention requiring it to inform the House of Commons of all non-treaty arrangements, although some stakeholders disagree.


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