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UK bill to send asylum seekers to Rwanda undercuts HR: UNHRC

Migration 2024-02-21, 12:24am

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UK Bill to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.



19 February 2024 - The United Kingdom’s legislative moves to facilitate the prompt removal of asylum seekers to Rwanda run contrary to the basic principles of the rule of law and risk delivering a “serious blow” to human rights, the UN rights chief warned on Monday.

“You cannot legislate facts out of existence,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk, calling on the UK Government to reconsider the bill in light of recent reports raising a range of concerns.

“It is deeply concerning to carve out one group of people, or people in one particular situation, from the equal protection of the law – this is antithetical to even-handed justice, available and accessible to all, without discrimination.”

The Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill requires every “decision maker”, be it a government minister, immigration office, or court or tribunal reviewing asylum decisions, conclusively to treat Rwanda as a “safe country” in terms of protecting refugees and asylum seekers against refoulement, irrespective of evidence that exists now or may exist in the future, he said.

Bill strips courts’ abilities

The bill would also drastically strip back the courts’ ability to scrutinize removal decisions.

“Settling questions of disputed fact – questions with enormous human rights consequences – is what the courts do, and which the UK courts have a proven track record of doing thoroughly and comprehensively,” he said.

“It should be for the courts to decide whether the measures taken by the Government since the Supreme Court’s ruling on risks in Rwanda are enough.”

Problematically, the bill substantially restricts the application of the Human Rights Act, which provides legal effect within the UK for the standards set out in the European Convention on Human Rights, Mr. Türk said.

The bill also renders discretionary the implementation of interim protective orders of the European Court of Human Rights, which are internationally binding on the UK, he added.

Incompatible with international refugee law

The UN human rights office (OHCHR) has reiterated the concerns expressed by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) that the scheme is not compatible with international refugee law.

“The combined effects of this bill, attempting to shield Government action from standard legal scrutiny, directly undercut basic human rights principles,” said Mr. Türk. “Independent, effective judicial oversight is the bedrock of the rule of law. It must be respected and strengthened. Governments cannot revoke their international human rights and asylum-related obligations by legislation.”

The UK Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights last week issued an important report raising a range of serious human rights and rule of law concerns with the proposed legislation as a whole, the UN rights chief said.

“I urge the UK Government to take all necessary steps to ensure full compliance with the UK’s international legal obligations and to uphold the country’s proud history of effective, independent judicial scrutiny. Such a stance is today more vital than ever,” Mr. Türk stressed.

Fails to meet required standards

The bill stems back to the UK’s announcement in April 2022 of a new migration and economic development partnership with the Government of Rwanda, later re-named the UK-Rwanda Asylum Partnership.

After the two governments signed the UK-Rwanda Asylum Partnership Treaty on 5 December 2023, the UK Government published the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill a day later.

After an analysis of both, the UN refugee agency said in January that they do “not meet the required standards relating to the legality and appropriateness of the transfer of asylum seekers” and “are not compatible with international refugee law”. – UN News