Rwanda can be trusted to treat humanely any asylum seekers sent to the country, lawyers for the home secretary have told the Supreme Court.
Opening their case, the lawyers said the Court of Appeal had been wrong to block the UK government’s plan to remove some asylum seekers to Rwanda amid fears about its record.
They urged the highest court in the UK to let the scheme go ahead.
The scheme has been in limbo since it was stopped 16 months ago.
Under the policy, anyone who comes to the UK without authorisation from a safe country and seeks asylum – in practice meaning people crossing the English Channel in small boats from France – can be blocked from making a claim for protection and sent to Rwanda instead.
Ministers say this would deter criminal people-smuggling gangs – although that’s disputed and officials estimate the scheme could be more expensive than dealing with the migrants in the UK.
In June 2022, the European Court of Human Rights blocked the departure of the first flight, saying that British judges needed time to fully consider whether the plan was legal.
That battle has now reached the Supreme Court, where five of the UK’s most senior lawyers will decide the scheme’s fate.
The government’s lawyers have said that in June the Court of Appeal was wrong to conclude that Rwanda’s asylum system was so flawed it could send migrants back to their home countries, where they could be mistreated.
Sir James Eadie KC, for the home secretary, told the Supreme Court there was “every reason to conclude” that Rwanda would want the arrangements to work.
He said the country had every reputational and financial incentive to treat asylum seekers well – and that even if there were genuine concerns, extensive monitoring had been put in place.
A government official would be permanently stationed in Kigali to make the deal work and also to flag concerns. There would also be further independent monitoring of what happened to each migrant.
These arrangements, alongside the detailed written commitments given to the UK under the £140m scheme, meant there was no legal reason to interfere with the plan.
April 2022: Government announces plan to send some migrants to Rwanda
May 2022: Then Home Secretary Priti Patel identifies 47 migrants to be sent
14 June 2022: Flight with seven migrants stopped by late order from European Court of Human Rights
December 2022: High Court rules plan is lawful but individual migrants treated unlawfully
June 2023: Court of Appeal rules entire scheme is unlawful
October 2023: Supreme Court appeal from the government
Human rights safeguards
Sir James said that while critics of the Rwanda plan had warned about the country’s human rights record, past incidents were not legally relevant.
He said the scheme ensured that both the UK government and Rwanda’s treatment of the migrants would comply with legal safeguards under the Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights.
“At the heart of all of this lies compliance with the assurances and the judgments that have to be made about that,” he said.
“There is no challenge at all to the good faith or the intent of Rwanda to comply with the commitments that they have given to the United Kingdom.”
Lawyers for 10 migrants resisting the plan will begin their submissions later on Monday.
On Tuesday, the United Nations’ refugee agency is expected to reiterate its criticisms of the scheme which have been a crucial element of the case so far.