A report published by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has found that the amended Rwanda transfer agreement ‘is not compatible with international refugee law.’ The report is an update to the UNHCR’s 2022 analysis of the Rwanda transfer arrangement, which determined that the deal violated principles of international humanitarian law.
The Rwanda deal, part of the government’s drive to curb illegal migration, allows the deportation of asylum seekers who reached the UK illegally to Rwanda pending the assessment of their asylum applications. In assessing the legality of the newly amended deal, the UNHCR considered the principle of international cooperation on refugee accommodation along with the rights and protections of asylum seekers.
The report accused the UK of ‘burden-shifting’, noting the disproportionate number of refugees residing in the developing world. The UNHCR found that the deal ‘runs counter to the fundamental principles of global solidarity and responsibility-sharing’ and raised concerns that the deal would worsen the existing imbalance in the global distribution of asylum seekers.
The amended deal also fails to adequately protect the rights and interests of asylum seekers. The UNHCR assessed that asylum seekers pursuing claims from Rwanda would lack access to fair and efficient asylum procedures, risking their wrongful return to countries they fled from. This issue was high on the Supreme Court’s list of considerations when it ruled that transfers under the Illegal Migration Act were unlawful in November 2023.
This report arrives as the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill enters the committee stage. Rishi Sunak is facing backbench rebellion over the proposal. The government claims that the Bill addresses the Supreme Court’s concerns about the Rwanda deal. However, the UNHCR contends that the Safety of Rwanda Bill fails to remedy these issues. Furthermore, the report raised concerns that the Bill would undermine enshrined rights to fair hearing and the right to challenge executive decisions in front of the European Court of Human Rights. The UNHCR called the erosion of human rights ‘deeply worrying.’