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Challenging the sanctity of sanctuary: the UK’s controversial Rwanda deportation plan and its impact on refugee rights


Challenging the sanctity of sanctuary: the UK’s controversial Rwanda deportation plan and its impact on refugee rights

Claire Street, Lecturer in Global Business, looks at the government’s plans to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Under Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, the UK government has announced plans to initiate deportation flights for asylum seekers to Rwanda within the next 10 to 12 weeks. This policy, designed to deter illegal Channel crossings by outsourcing asylum processing to Rwanda, has been framed as a strategy to curb illegal immigration and disrupt human smuggling networks. However, it is mired in controversy and legal opposition.

Central to the debate are the ethical and legal implications of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, which underpins this policy. This Act creates a legal framework that allows the UK to differentiate the treatment of asylum seekers based on their mode of entry. Such differentiation undermines the very definition of who is considered a refugee, challenging the universally accepted premise that one’s need for sanctuary, not the means of arrival, should determine refugee status.

Critics argue that this violates international refugee protections, including the principle of non-refoulment, and deepens the divide between those who have the resources to arrive through official channels and those who, out of desperation, cannot. It imposes an additional layer of marginalisation on the already vulnerable, thus warping the essence of refugee rights and protection.

Further complicating the ethical situation is the revelation that the Home Office has recognised that some Rwandan nationals’ fears of persecution are ‘well-founded.’ This acknowledgement came at a time when Rwandans were granted refugee status in the UK due to such fears, directly contradicting the government’s public assertions and legal arguments that Rwanda is a safe destination for deportees. This contradiction exposes significant inconsistencies in the government’s stance, raising serious questions about the sincerity and validity of the safety evaluations for deported asylum seekers.

These developments suggest a dissonance within the UK government’s policies, where the practical application of asylum law appears at odds with the political objectives of the Nationality and Borders Act. This scenario not only challenges the ethical justification of the Rwanda deportation plan but also undermines the UK’s commitment to international human rights standards. The policy’s potential violation of these standards could lead to further legal challenges, damaging the UK’s international reputation and its legal obligations under international law.

As this plan moves forward, it will undoubtedly continue to attract significant scrutiny and opposition both within the UK and globally. The ethical, legal, and humanitarian concerns associated with deporting asylum seekers to a nation where the UK itself has acknowledged risks of persecution will persist as a focal point of dispute, calling for a comprehensive reassessment of the policy’s compatibility with both domestic values and international commitments. This situation highlights the intricate relationship between national security, international law, and human rights, demanding a careful and informed approach to policy-making in the fields of asylum and immigration.

Claire Street is a Lecturer in Global Business in the Christ Church Business School.

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