Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill – Report Summary

This is a Joint Committee report, with recommendations to government. The Government has two months to respond.

Author: Joint Committee on Human Rights

Related inquiry: Safety of Rwanda (Asylum & Immigration) Bill

Date Published: 12 February 2024

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In November 2023 the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom found that the Government’s policy of removing individuals who enter the UK without authorisation to Rwanda was unlawful. The Supreme Court concluded that Rwanda was not a safe destination because of the risk that asylum seekers removed from the UK might be sent on to face persecution or human rights abuses in another country. The Government’s response was to enter into a new legally binding treaty with Rwanda and introduced the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, intended to establish that Rwanda is a safe country and to prevent legal challenges to that conclusion.

The Government has described the Rwanda policy as part of its response to the global migration crisis. In mid-2023, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimated that there were 110 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, including more than 36 million refugees and 6.1 million people seeking asylum. We note that around 70% of all refugees settle in countries neighbouring their own, and that the number of asylum claims in the UK is currently approximately 10% lower than at its peak in 2002. Nevertheless, increasing numbers of individuals have been entering the UK on small boats across the Channel, often facilitated by organised criminal gangs. This Bill is intended to act as a deterrent to those making dangerous journeys using small boats. We recognise the UK’s right to control its borders and agree with the Government that the prevention of further loss of life in the channel is a priority, especially given its obligations to protect life under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). However, our role in scrutinising this Bill is to assess its compatibility with the UK’s human rights obligations. On introduction of the Bill, the Home Secretary was unable to make a statement under section 19 of the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) that the Bill is compatible with the ECHR rights. Having considered the evidence provided to us, and taken into account other relevant material, we have concluded that the Bill does not comply with the UK’s human rights obligations and would place the UK in breach of international law.

The Government maintains that the new treaty with Rwanda and recent developments on the ground mean that, despite the conclusions reached by the Supreme Court, Rwanda is now safe. We heard evidence in support of this view, but more witnesses told us that the problems identified by the Supreme Court could not be resolved so quickly. We note in particular that the UNHCR, whose evidence was considered significant by the Supreme Court, does not consider that Rwanda is now safe. We are not persuaded that Parliament can be confident that Rwanda is now safe. In any event, we consider that the courts are best placed to resolve such contested issues of fact.

By preventing the courts considering any claims that Rwanda is not a safe country, or that there is a risk of refoulement, regardless of what evidence is available, the Bill denies access to the court and to an effective remedy, which is guaranteed by Article 13 ECHR. The weight of the evidence we have heard from those with legal expertise is that, despite the Government’s claims, neither the possibility of a claim for a declaration of incompatibility under section 4 HRA nor of a claim based on compelling evidence of individual circumstances under clause 4 of the Bill are enough to meet the requirements of Article 13.

The Bill disapplies laws that might prevent an individual’s removal to Rwanda, including many of the key provisions of the HRA. The JCHR has previously criticised attempts to disapply section 3 HRA (the obligation to read legislation compatibly with human rights) in respect of certain groups, but this Bill goes further and in relation to decisions to remove to Rwanda would also disapply section 2 HRA (the obligation to take into account European Court of Human Rights case law) and sections 6 to 9 HRA (the duty on public authorities to act compatibly with Convention rights and the right to bring a legal claim and secure a remedy if they do not). This appears to expressly allow for public bodies to act in breach of human rights. It threatens the fundamental principle that human rights are universal and should be protected for everyone.

The Bill cannot prevent someone threatened with removal to Rwanda making an application to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), which has the power to issue ‘interim measures’ telling States to refrain from removing an individual from the jurisdiction while their claim is considered. While there is a body of opinion that disagrees with it, summarised in Chapter 6 of this report, the clear position in international law is that interim measures issued by the Court are binding on the UK. By stating that it is up to Ministers to decide whether to comply with interim measures, the Bill openly invites the possibility of the UK breaching international law.

Concerns have also been raised about the impact of the Bill on Northern Ireland; that it would undermine both the Windsor Framework and the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement. We call on the Government to provide a full explanation of why it does not accept these concerns before the Bill reaches Report stage in the House of Lords.

Finally, we note that the UK has a reputation for respect for human rights and the rule of law of which we should be proud. Legislation that seeks to disapply or fails to respect international law risks damaging that reputation and encouraging other states who are less respectful of the international legal order.