Politics & News

Amid Growing Controversy, UK Passes Rwanda Asylum Bill

The UK Parliament passed on Monday a controversial bill that will send asylum seekers to Rwanda, reported BBC.

The bill was under discussion for two years and faced fierce opposition in the Houses of Parliament and challenges in British courts for reasons related to human rights, but passed when the Lords dropped their opposition. The bill is expected to be granted royal assent on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak celebrated his success on Tuesday, saying: “We introduced the Rwanda Bill to deter vulnerable migrants from making perilous crossings and break the business model of the criminal gangs who exploit them. The passing of this legislation will allow us to do that and make it very clear that if you come here illegally, you will not be able to stay.”

What is the Rwanda Plan?

The Rwanda asylum plan says that any asylum seeker entering the UK illegally after 1 January 2022 could be sent to Rwanda to process their claims. If successful, they could be granted refugee status and allowed to stay in the east-central African country.

Amid Growing Controversy, UK Passes Rwanda Asylum Bill
Nationality of asylum seekers

If not, they could apply to settle in Rwanda for other reasons, or seek asylum in another “safe third country.” But no asylum seeker would be able to return to the UK.

The plan doesn’t set limits for the number of asylum seekers who could be sent to Rwanda. But BBC estimates there are 52,000 people who could be considered. Sunak said that the first flight would leave within 10-12 weeks, adding that the British government had “put an airfield on standby” and had booked commercial charter planes for the flights.

Passing the Bill

The British Supreme Court ordered that the Rwanda plan was unlawful, so the government introduced a bill that orders the courts to disregard key sections of the Human Rights Law, and ignore other British laws or international rules which could prevent deportations to Rwanda.

To ensure asylum seekers won’t be returned to their home countries, the British government signed a migration treaty with Rwanda in December 2023. The UK Home Secretary James Cleverly said that Rwanda has made “a clear and unambiguous commitment to the safety of people who come here.”

Dangerous Journey

Since 2018, the UK has experienced a surge in the number of small boats crossing the English Channel, one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. Sunak has made stopping the flow of migrants a priority for his government.

Amid Growing Controversy, UK Passes Rwanda Asylum Bill
Number of small boat crossings

Many asylum seekers, escaping wars and poverty in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, started arriving to the English coast in small boats. Since the start of 2024, more than 6,000 have arrived in Britain, an increase of around a quarter against the same period last year.

But crossing on small boats is dangerous, because smugglers usually overload the boats, leaving people barely afloat and at risk of being lashed by the waves. Hours after passing the Rwanda bill, 5 people, including a child, died while attempting to cross the Channel from France, reported Reuters.

Asylum Seekers in the UK

According to the latest official data, the total immigration estimate for the year ending June 2023 was around 1,250,000 people. Of these, 97,000 were asylum seekers. There were 78,768 asylum applications in the UK in the year ending June 2023, a 19% increase from a year earlier.

Amid Growing Controversy, UK Passes Rwanda Asylum Bill
Asylum seekers applicants

The increase in asylum applications partially reflects an increase in small boat arrivals to the UK. In the year ending June 2023, small boat arrivals accounted for over one-third (37%) of the total number of people claiming asylum in the UK.

Fierce Criticism

The Rwanda Bill faces strong criticism from human rights groups. The Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Michael O’Flaherty has condemned the bill, saying it raises “major issues about the human rights of asylum seekers and the rule of law.” He described the bill as “a grave concern” and should not be used to deport asylum seekers or compromise judges’ independence, according to the Guardian.

Right groups and charities have condemned the passing of the bill as “a stain on this country’s moral reputation.” Lawyers said they will prepare legal challenges on behalf of individual asylum seekers.

Amnesty International UK’s chief executive, Sacha Deshmukh, criticized the passing of the bill as a “national disgrace”, saying that it “takes a hatchet to international legal protections for some of the most vulnerable people in the world.”

He added that the bill is built on “a deeply authoritarian notion” for curbing the ability of courts to look at evidence, decide on the facts of a case and apply the law accordingly.

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