In April last year, the UK struck an agreement with Rwanda to deport African asylum seekers arriving from Europe in small boats or inflatable dinghies in England to Kigali, where their asylum applications will be processed.
Various human rights groups criticised the deal as discriminatory and that since Rwanda is notorious for human rights violations, the deported refugees risked being sent to their countries of origin from where they fled danger.
One of the human rights reports noted that: "Bloggers and journalists continued to be harassed, intimidated, persecuted and unlawfully detained by Rwanda authorities".
Against that background, the UK court president, Lord Reed, in a ruling said the judges agreed unanimously with the court of appeal that there was a real risk of the deportees being wrongly treated in Rwanda, resulting in being illegally returned to their countries of origin.
He pointed to crucial evidence from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, UNHCR, which highlighted the failure of a similar deportation agreement between Israel and Rwanda.
The ruling undermined one of conservative government’s key pledges to “stop the boats”. The government claimed that the scheme would be a key deterrent for growing numbers of asylum seekers reaching the UK via small boats travelling across the channel, a claim that refugee charities rejected.
The prominent legal issue was whether there were substantial grounds for believing that asylum seekers sent to Rwanda would be at real risk of being sent back to the countries they came from, where they could face ill treatment.
“In the light of the evidence which I have summarised, the court of appeal concluded that there were such grounds. We are unanimously of the view that they were entitled to reach that conclusion. Indeed, having been taken through the evidence ourselves, we agree with their conclusion,” the Chief Judge read in support of a decision of the Lower Chamber, which the government had appealed against.
Various reactions followed the decisions. Toufique Hossain, one of the lawyers representing asylum seekers, said: “This is a victory for our brave clients who stood up to an inhumane policy. It is also a victory for the rule of law itself and the separation of powers, despite the noise. It is a timely reminder that governments must operate within the law. We hope that now our clients are able to dream of a better, safer future”.
Steve Smith, the Chief Executive of the refugee charity, Care4Calais, said the judgment was “a victory for humanity...This grubby, cash-for-people deal was always cruel and immoral but, most importantly, it is unlawful. Hundreds of millions of pounds have been spent on this cruel policy, and the only receipts the government has are the pain and torment inflicted on the thousands of survivors of war, torture and modern slavery they have targeted with it.
“Today’s judgment should bring this shameful mark on the UK’s history to a close. Never again should our government seek to shirk our country’s responsibility to offer sanctuary to those caught up in horrors around the world,” he said.
British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, reacting to the ruling, said to be a potentially fatal blow to his flagship migration policy and sparking a furious revolt from the right wing of British politics, noted that his government will introduce emergency legislation to confirm that Rwanda is a safe country.
"We will take the extraordinary step of introducing emergency legislation. This will enable parliament to confirm that with our new treaty, Rwanda is safe," Sunak said at a press conference.
Reuters on Wednesday, quoting government officials, reported that the new options could include negotiating a new deal with Rwanda, upgrading the agreement from a Memorandum of Understanding, MoU, and including new safeguards.
"A new treaty passed by parliament could make it harder for the courts to intervene, according to officials," Supreme Court President, Robert Reed, said, adding that changes needed to prevent anyone from being returned to their home country could be delivered in the future "but they have not been shown to be in place now".
Other options include adding new nations, such as Turkiye and Egypt to the list of so-called safe countries making it easier to reject asylum claims and return them to their home countries, officials said.
Global refugee statistics reveal that last year, 8,115 people fled from Cameroon, mainly as a result of the conflict in the North West and South West Regions, which even Francophones, more than Anglophones, are using to seek asylum.
A total of 772 people fled from Cameroon to the United States, where they have had temporary protection. The most common destination countries have been Cyprus, France and the United States. Overall, 67 percent of the asylum applications have been rejected.
But while the UK, other Europeans and the United States have been having sleepless nights about the refugee influx, they should also be concerned about why people are unsafe in their own countries.
Are some of these refugees not running for economic reasons because their resources are looted by the countries rejecting them? What effort has the UK made to mediate the conflict in the two English-speaking Regions of Cameroon; especially being that it opposed the independence of Southern Cameroons before reunification and boycotted the Foumban conference as against the recommendation of the United Nations? Why is it that the UK wants to deport only African refugees to their continent and not those of countries from the Middle East, Asia and Latin America for instance, to their continents?
The UK conservative government should not be discriminatory or try to bend the law. Britain used slaves from Africa to build its country and should in some reciprocity, process applications for asylum seekers once they arrive on their soil as required by international law.