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What Is The Rwanda Migration Bill That UK's Rishi Sunak Battles To Push Through?

The plan to send asylum-seekers to Rwanda has been at the centre of Rishi Sunak’s bid to win an election this year.

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AP
U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak faces a test of his authority over his stalled Rwanda plan Photo: AP
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UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will face a crucial vote on Wednesday on the contentious Rwanda migration bill that the Supreme Court unanimously ruled as unlawful in November 2023. 

In what came as a setback for the Prime Minister’s plan of ‘stopping the boats’, two of the party’s deputy chairmen resigned from their positions on Tuesday in order to vote for amendments to the bill. 

The plan to send asylum-seekers to Rwanda has been at the centre of Sunak’s bid to win an election this year.

What is the Rwanda Migration Bill?

The U.K. and Rwandan governments agreed on a deal more than a year ago that would send asylum-seekers to the East African country, where their asylum claims would be processed during a five-year trial. If successful, they could be granted refugee status and allowed to stay. 

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If not, they could apply to settle in Rwanda on other grounds, or seek asylum in another "safe third country".  "Anyone entering the UK illegally" after 1 January 2022 could be sent there, with no limit on numbers, the government had said.

The government claims the policy is a fair way to deal with an influx of people who arrive on U.K. shores without authorisation and that Rwanda is a safe “third country” — meaning it's not where they are seeking asylum from. 

So far, not a single person has been sent there as the policy has been caught in legal disputes.

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What is the criticism against the plan?

Human rights groups have argued that not only is it inhumane to deport people more than 4,000 miles (6,400 kilometers) to a place they don't want to live, but Rwanda also has a record of poor human rights, including allegations of torture and killings of government opponents. In fact, the U.K. Supreme Court itself in 2021, had criticised Rwanda for its "extrajudicial killings, deaths in custody, enforced disappearances and torture".

Critics also say it would leave most refugees and victims of modern slavery with no way of seeking asylum in Britain and breaches the U.K.’s international human rights obligations. 

A High Court judge initially upheld the policy, saying it didn't breach Britain's obligations under the U.N. Refugee Convention or other international agreements. But that ruling was reversed by a 2-1 decision in the Court of Appeal that found that while it was not unlawful to send asylum-seekers to a safe third country, Rwanda as a country could not be deemed safe.

What did the UK Supreme Court say?

The U.K. Supreme Court in November 2023, agreeing with the court of appeal, unanimously ruled that the Rwanda bill was unlawful as genuine refugees sent there would be at risk of being returned to their home countries, where they could face harm or violence.

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The court also ruled that the bill would breach the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which prohibits torture and inhuman treatment. The U.K. is a signatory to the ECHR. 

After the court’s ruling, the government introduced a new bill – Safety of Rwanda Bill – to clearly spell out in U.K. law that Rwanda is a safe country.

The legislation, if approved by the parliament, would order courts to bypass important sections of the Human Rights Act, British laws and international rules - such as the international Refugee Convention - that stand in the way of deportations to Rwanda. 

This bill went through the first round of voting in the parliament in December 2023 but the second round of voting will conclude on January 17, 2024.

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