One Pump Court: Landmark decision bars UK’s Rwanda policy

16 Nov 2023

In a historic judgment the Supreme Court upheld the Court of Appeal’s ruling that Rwanda is not a ‘safe third country’ for asylum seekers sent from the UK for determination of their claims. The case challenged the government’s policy of sending asylum-seekers to Rwanda, asserting that it is unlawful due to serious deficiencies in Rwanda’s asylum system that put them at risk of being returned to a country where they would face ill treatment.

The Supreme Court, agreeing with the Court of Appeal, concluded that there are substantial grounds for believing that individuals removed to Rwanda face a real risk of ill treatment. This is because there is a real risk that Rwanda will not determine their asylum claims properly and, as a result, will return them to a country of origin where their life or freedom is threatened.

The decision stands as a firm assertion that sending asylum seekers to Rwanda under the current circumstances is in violation of the prohibition of refoulement – a principle enshrined in the Refugee Convention of 1951, as well as in other international treaties such as the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment of 1984 and the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966.

The Court gave particular weight to evidence presented by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), citing its status, expertise, and experience in relation to Rwanda’s asylum system. UNHCR’s findings played a pivotal role in affirming the existence of significant defects in that system, contributing to the overall strength of the case against the government’s policy.

In conclusion, the Supreme Court acknowledged the potential for structural changes and capacity-building in Rwanda’s asylum system to eliminate risks for asylum seekers in the future. However, it firmly held that such changes were not demonstrated to be in place at the time when the lawfulness of the policy was under consideration. This decision stands as a testament to the UK’s obligations to uphold asylum seekers’ rights and prevent the direct or indirect expulsion of vulnerable individuals to countries where they face persecution and ill-treatment.

David Chirico acted for UNHCR, with Angus McCullough KC, Laura Dubinsky KC, Agata Patyna, Jennifer MacLeod, George Molyneaux and Joshua Pemberton, instructed by Joanna Ludlam at Baker McKenzie. Ben Bundock acted in the UNHCR team in the Divisional Court. All UNHCR’s counsel and solicitors acted pro bono.

Angelina Nicolaou represented claimant ASM along with Sarah Dobbie, led by Richard Drabble KC and Leonie Hirst, instructed by Jed Pennington of Wilsons Solicitors, London.


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