More than 70 years ago, the Council of Europe (not European Union) created The European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedom (ECHR). This was set up after the second world war with the intention of protecting human rights, the rule of law and promoting democracy. Winston Churchill was instrumental in the creation of ECHR and spoke about the “strength derived from our sense of common values” grounded in legally binding obligations. The experience of the second world war had ignited a desire to structure governments “owned by the people and not governments owning the people”.
In April 2022 the UK government entered a memorandum of understanding with the government of Rwanda for an asylum partnership worth £120 million. This arrangement would ensure that “asylum seekers whose claims were not considered by the UK would be relocated to Rwanda”.
As a result of this partnership, the UK government wanted to send seven asylum seekers to Rwanda. One of the asylum seekers was an Iraq national who travelled to Turkey and across Europe before crossing the English Channel by boat. Upon arrival in the UK, he claimed asylum alleging that he was in danger. A medical doctor in the Immigration removal centre issued a report highlighting that the Iraq national might have been a victim of torture.
Successive UK courts upheld the decision to send him to Rwanda and he was pursuing Judicial Review scheduled for July. The UK government wanted to send him to Rwanda before the Judicial Review and submitted that if he were to win, he would be sent back to the UK from Rwanda.
The case was taken to ECHR in Strasbourg where the court threw a spanner into the works by deciding against UK courts and effectively blocking deportations from going ahead last night. The ECHR was influenced by the concerns raised by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that asylum seekers transferred from UK to Rwanda “will not have access to fair and efficient procedures for determination of refugee status.” In addition, the ECHR considered the finding by the UK High Court that the question to treat Rwanda as a safe third country was irrational or based on insufficient inquiry which gave rise to “serious triable issues”.
As a result, the ECHR was not convinced that the asylum seekers’ rights would be protected in Rwanda considering that Rwanda is not within the ECHR jurisdiction. Furthermore, the partnership between the UK and Rwanda is not legally binding which implies Rwanda cannot be compelled to comply with it. It can also be inferred from this decision that the ECHR Judges did not have confidence that a win in the Judicial Review would bring back the Iraq national from Rwanda. In light of this, none of the seven asylum seekers were deported.
IMPACT OF THE ECHR JUDGMENT
This matter is not over, the seven asylum seekers could still go to Rwanda if the Judicial Review is decided in favour of the UK government next month. It’s a significant policy issue with profound implications. The Judicial Review will have to establish whether the policy being pursued by the UK government will protect all those sent to Rwanda. The decision by ECHR will obviously come into play and it will take courage to contradict it. The argument against this UK government policy is that it’s not workable in all the circumstances. However, as controversial as it may seem and with no clear policy in decades, some politicians believe it can generate political capital.
If the Judicial Review were to allow the asylum seekers to be deported to Rwanda, it will mean that the UK has made domestic laws that go against the obligations it signed up to in 1951 after the second world war. This could further open the door for the UK to leave the ECHR which it was instrumental in setting up. Leaving the ECHR is construed by the UK government as fulfilling Brexit objectives even though there are legal and moral obstacles. The Church of England and all the Bishops said the idea of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda “shames us all”. Prince Charles who is not meant to comment on political matters said sending asylum seekers to Rwanda was “appalling”.
The question being asked often is whether deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda would stop traffickers from crossing the English Channel? An international response is needed since this is an international problem. It could be worth considering going to countries where these traffickers operate from and arrest them in their backyard. For now, all the attention is on the Judicial Review next month.