Rwanda-UK deal: Government lawyers say deportation to Africa 'not a punishment'

Rwanda-UK deal: Government lawyers say deportation to Africa 'not a punishment'
Lawyers defending the UK government's controversial Rwanda deportation scheme argued in court on Wednesday that the Home Secretary has clear legal powers to send asylum seekers to a 'safe' third country.
3 min read
08 September, 2022
Hundreds gathered outside the High Court on Monday to protest against the deportation scheme [source: Getty]

Lawyers representing the UK government argued on Wednesday that sending asylum seekers to Rwanda under the government's controversial deportation policy is "not a punishment" during a High Court hearing this week. 

On day three of a judicial review into the policy's lawfulness, Lord David Pannick QC said the UK government had clear legal powers to send asylum seekers to a "safe" third country under a law passed by Labour in 2004.

The Home Office legal team told the court that Rwanda provided water-tight assurances to guarantee migrants are treated fairly and have access to legal representation, hitting back at concerns over potential abuse and ill-treatment if individuals are sent to Kigali.  

"If we choose to return the individual to a third country that is safe, then we, the UK, have complied with our obligation under the Refugee Convention," said Lord Pannick.

"Relocation to a safe third country is not a criminal penalty and is not imposed as a punishment," said written submissions from the Home Office legal team. 

Live Story

The High Court hearing this week involves a legal challenge from refugee charities, the PSC union representing civil servants and asylum seekers, over the lawfulness of the UK's Rwanda deportation scheme. 

A central part of the case against the government stipulates that Rwanda is not a safe country given its poor human rights record and evidence of asylum seekers' forced deportation. 

The UNHCR provided damning written submissions to the court arguing that the scheme "breaches the UK’s obligation under the Refugee Convention" and called it a "burden-shifting  measure".

The international body pointed to a number of examples where Rwanda had broken the principle of refoulement, sending asylum seekers to a country where they are likely to face danger and persecution - such as Uganda or Syria

Government lawyers have argued all migrants will be given the chance to claim asylum in Rwanda with adequate legal representation, the right to appeal, and interpreters. The claimaint's legal team said Rwanda's asylum system doesn't have the capacity to ensure these procedures take place. 

Moreover, included in Rwanda's guarantees over the fair treatment of migrants is a caveat that stipulates the country can't be taken to court if the assurances are breached.  

UK Prime Minister Liz Truss and her new Home Secretary Suella Braverman support the deportation policy.

The government has championed the measures as a way to curb migrant crossings in small boats across the English Channel. Refugee charities, including Care4Calais and Detention Action, have slammed the policy as cruel and instead called for safe humanitarian corridors for people to claim asylum in the UK. 

The High Court hearing continues until Friday. A second stage is expected to take place in October.