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The Government intends to send some people who have tried to claim asylum in the UK to Rwanda to seek asylum there. The policy is designed to deter unauthorised immigration, especially people arriving by small boat.

The Supreme Court found in November 2023 that sending asylum seekers to Rwanda was unlawful. In response, the Government secured a new treaty with Rwanda and new legislation from Parliament, both designed to make the relocation scheme lawful. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hopes to begin sending people to Rwanda in July, if his party wins the 2024 general election.

People attempting to claim asylum in the UK will be sent to live in Rwanda instead

The UK and Rwanda agreed a Migration and Economic Development Partnership in April 2022. It included a five-year ‘asylum partnership arrangement’ as detailed in a non-binding memorandum of understanding. In December 2023, this was upgraded to a formal treaty.

The arrangement allows the UK to forcibly relocate asylum seekers, people who have already been refused asylum, and other people who have made unauthorised journeys to the UK. Rwanda will either grant them asylum or permanent residence; they cannot apply for return to the UK. Under the treaty, relocated people cannot be sent out of Rwanda (unless the UK requests their return).

The UK is making significant economic aid and per-person payments to Rwanda

In return, the UK is providing £370 million in development funding to Rwanda, plus another £120 million once 300 people have been relocated. The UK will also pay up to £171,000 per person relocated, largely to cover a five-year integration package. By the end of 2023, £240 million had already been paid to Rwanda. Another £50 million was due for payment in April 2024.

The arrangement has been controversial, including in Parliament and among some Conservatives. Critics have raised concerns about the policy’s legality, practicality, morality, efficacy and expense. The Labour Party says it would cancel the scheme.

Asylum seekers will no longer have their claim processed in the UK if they arrive illegally

The Home Office plans to use the relocation agreement to remove people who have made dangerous journeys to the UK and are considered ‘inadmissible’ to the UK’s asylum system. Once the Illegal Migration Act 2023 is fully in force, people’s asylum claims would be automatically inadmissible if they have arrived illegally since 20 July 2023.

People whom the Home Office wishes to relocate to Rwanda will be identified and referred to the Rwandan authorities on a case-by-case basis, after an initial screening process in the UK.

Although the scheme originally focused on inadmissible asylum seekers, it has since been expanded to cover people who never lodge an asylum claim, have an asylum claim turned down or go voluntarily (one man has voluntarily relocated to Rwanda after being refused asylum).

The plan has been held up by legal challenges, and may be again

Nobody has been forcibly relocated under the UK-Rwanda asylum partnership since the policy was announced. The first planned flight in June 2022 was halted following a controversial European Court of Human Rights injunction.

In November 2023, the Supreme Court found that the Rwanda arrangements were unlawful. In a unanimous decision, the court held that Rwanda was not a safe country because of the risk that it might send refugees back to places where they would be persecuted.

The Government has decided to press ahead with the Rwanda policy. It is attempting to make the arrangements lawful by including extra safeguards for refugees in the new treaty with Rwanda and introducing a new Safety of Rwanda Act which instructs the courts to treat Rwanda as safe. Both came into force on 25 April 2024.

Fresh litigation challenging aspects of the policy has begun nevertheless.

Criticism from the UN Refugee Agency

The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, has questioned whether the scheme is compatible with the UK’s obligations under international refugee and human rights laws. Some of its concerns are summarised in the annex to the briefing, which can be downloaded in full below.

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