Five justices unanimously found that Rwanda is not a safe destination for migrants, writing in their decision that asylum-seekers redirected to the East African nation would be “at real risk of ill-treatment.”
The court cited a laundry list of reasons for striking down Sunak’s plan, including Rwanda’s record of human rights abuses, political repression and policy of “refoulement,” or deporting asylees to the countries they had fled from.
The justices argued that Rwanda’s tendency to reject refugees from war-shattered countries means that there is a danger “that asylum claims will not be determined properly…”
The ruling, Sunak said, “was not what we wanted.” But he is undeterred. He said that his administration would broker a treaty with Rwanda to address the court’s worries.
If the treaty falls through, Sunak said, he would consider rewriting British law and backing out of international human rights agreements, which would undoubtedly draw ire from activists at home and abroad.
Rwanda agreed in April 2022, when former U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson was still in office, to receive undocumented immigrants who had arrived in the U.K. as stowaways and process their asylum applications.
The Conservative government has already given Rwanda nearly $175 million as part of the plan, although not a single migrant has been sent there yet.
While Britain’s border crisis is not as severe as many of its neighbors in Europe, such as Italy and Germany, tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants have made the harrowing journey to northern France to sail across the English Channel in often overcrowded dinghies.
More than 27,000 refugees from around the world have floated over the channel this year, a marked decrease from last year’s 46,000. Sunak claims that the decline in undocumented immigrants is due to his government’s stringent policies. Others believe the disparity in crossings is due to harsh weather conditions.
In the post-Brexit era, “stop the boats” has become a conservative protest slogan. To Sunak and many of his right-wing supporters, stricter control of the country’s borders represents independence from outside influence.
Human rights groups have condemned Sunak’s positions on immigration.
Amnesty International said the nation’s leaders should “draw a line under a disgraceful chapter in the U.K.’s political history.” The U.K. branch of ActionAid, a global humanitarian charity, struck a similar tone, saying the Supreme Court’s ruling represents “British values of compassion and dignity.”
Rwandan officials have repeatedly affirmed their country’s commitment to human rights, despite a number of scandals, from torture and secret abductions by law enforcement to, as the Supreme Court noted in its judgment, “credible plans to kill” Rwandan defectors living in Britain.
Nevertheless, Yolande Makolo, a spokeswoman for Rwanda’s government, wrote on X, formerly Twitter, that “Rwanda is committed to its international obligations. We have been recognized by the UNHCR and other international institutions for our exemplary treatment of refugees.”
Some information for this report was provided by The Associated Press.
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