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Successive governments have wanted to introduce extra safeguards against non-genuine asylum claims and deter asylum seekers (whether or not genuine refugees) from making dangerous journeys to the UK. These include measures denying or limiting access to the asylum system to people from, or who have passed through, countries that the UK considers safe.

EU citizens cannot normally claim asylum in the UK (‘inadmissibility’)

The closest thing to an automatic blanket ban on asylum claims is for citizens of European Union countries. Claims for refugee status by EU citizens must be declared “inadmissible” unless there are exceptional circumstances. An inadmissible claim cannot be considered: it is, essentially, null and void.

Some non-EU citizens have no right of appeal if refused asylum (‘certification’)

Certain non-EU countries are presumed to be safe for asylum seekers to return to unless they can show otherwise. People from so-called ‘white list’ countries do have their asylum claim considered but have no right of appeal if the claim is deemed to be clearly unfounded. Such a claim is said to be ‘certified’.

Less than half of asylum claims lodged by people from ‘white list’ countries are certified as clearly unfounded. The majority either succeed or are refused without certification. Overall, the number of asylum claims certified as clearly unfounded has fallen sharply in the past few years.

The UN Refugee Agency says that designating countries as safe as part of an asylum decision process is permitted under international law, but only as a way of prioritising which claims to examine. It is opposed to safe country rules that impose blanket bans on asylum claims by people of certain nationalities.

Travel through a safe country can void a UK asylum claim (‘third country inadmissibility’)

The UK Government’s position is that refugees should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach. The UN Refugee Agency says this is not required by the Refugee Convention or international law.

People who have passed through a safe country can nevertheless be denied access to the UK asylum system. The law allows the Home Secretary to declare an asylum claim inadmissible if the person “has a connection to a safe third State”. An inadmissible claim cannot be processed unless there are exceptional circumstances or removal from the UK would take too long.

When the UK was in the European Union, some people in this position could be sent back to an EU country that they had passed through. Those ‘Dublin’ arrangements lapsed after Brexit. The Government now wants to send people who have passed through one safe third country (typically in the EU) to a different safe third country, Rwanda.

The Rwanda policy relies on complex third country inadmissibility rules

If someone being considered for third country removal raises a legal objection based on the European Convention on Human Rights, that claim must be processed. Unlike their asylum claim, it is not being declared null and void.

This means that, if someone both claims asylum and raises a human rights claim, civil servants must make a complex series of assessments and decisions before the person can be removed as inadmissible. These decisions can be challenged by judicial review. In December 2022, the High Court quashed a number of decisions relating to people being removed to Rwanda.

Someone’s asylum claim should not be declared inadmissible until another country has agreed for the person to be removed there. Aside from Rwanda, no third country has agreed to accept asylum seekers from the UK in large numbers, and the Rwanda agreement is on hold pending further litigation.

As a result, fewer than 100 people have had their claim declared inadmissible on third country grounds since the current framework was introduced at the start of 2021. Of those, 21 have been removed from the UK.

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