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The Rwanda policy is in its death throes

Due to the stated position of the previous Conservative government that there would be a removal flight to Rwanda on 24 July 2024, a High Court hearing was due to take place over four days starting on 9 July 2024. Due to the election of a Labour government and their explicitly and frequently stated position that no such flights would happen, this was converted to a case management hearing that took place earlier today.

The cases to be considered were SM, SY and YXY. The grounds in these cases encompass challenges to decisions to keep claimants in the “Migration and Economic Development Partnership cohort” (i.e. asylum seekers who arrived after January 2022 and received a Notice of Intent before the end of June 2023 – the “paused cohort“) on the basis that this was contrary the immigration rules and Inadmissibility policy.

The cases also included “structural safety” challenges to the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Act 2024 (namely whether this legislation stops individuals arguing that their removal to Rwanda might result in refoulement and, if it does, whether the Act is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights). There was also consideration on an interim relief basis of “factual safety” issues relating to removal to Rwanda, namely whether the evidence demonstrates that Rwanda is not in fact a safe country for people seeking asylum.

Over the weekend, the Prime Minister confirmed that the incoming Labour government would scrap the Rwanda policy.

The government was required to update the court as to its position on Monday 8 July 2024. Following this, today’s hearing was converted to a case management hearing before a Divisional Court made up of the President of the King’s Bench Division (Dame Victoria Sharp), Chamberlain J and Dove J.

It appears that the extent of the new government’s instructions to their lawyers was to confirm to the court that no deportation flights to Rwanda were planned, and to settle the three individual claims by agreeing to consider their asylum claims in the UK (and paying costs). Notwithstanding the Prime Minister’s comments over the weekend, the lawyers were not yet able to confirm the government’s wider position on the Rwanda policy, including what is to happen to the thousands of people in the asylum inadmissibility process.

As a consequence of this, Asylum Aid’s challenge – which had been stayed behind SM, SY and YXY and focuses on the “structural safety” issues – is to continue, pending clarification and confirmation of the government’s general position on the Rwanda policy.

Where does this leave people in the asylum inadmissibility process, including people who received Notices of Intent in April and May 2024?

Firstly, the government has confirmed that no flights to Rwanda are planned.

Secondly – and perhaps most importantly – the incoming Labour government has been consistent in its position that it will scrap the Rwanda policy and the Prime Minister specifically confirmed this over the weekend. There are some 5,000 people in the paused cohort and more than 100,000 people in the asylum system with outstanding claims. It is understandable that it will take some time to decide what to do with such a large number of people, alongside the multitude of competing demands on newly appointed Home Office ministers.

Thirdly, the current situation pertaining for people in the paused cohort is plainly unlawful. There is quite simply no prospect of them being sent to have their asylum claims decided in a safe third country. The government has given no timescale for its decision whether the paused cohort as a whole will have their asylum claims considered in the UK.

In the absence of this, such people are entitled to bring judicial review proceedings to challenge what amounts to an ongoing unlawful decision to shut them out of the UK asylum system. Where individuals can demonstrate that delay is causing them particularly adverse consequences (e.g. mental ill health or where there is an urgent need for reunion with families living in dangerous situations), it may possible to argue for expedited or urgent consideration.

Finally, our overriding message would be not to panic. The Rwanda policy is in its death throes and it shouldn’t be much longer before we can finally celebrate its demise.


Interested in refugee law? You might like Colin's book, imaginatively called "Refugee Law" and published by Bristol University Press.

Communicating important legal concepts in an approachable way, this is an essential guide for students, lawyers and non-specialists alike.

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Jed Pennington

Jed Pennington is a public law and human rights specialist at Wilson Solicitors, with a particular focus on judicial reviews and civil actions concerning immigration detention and migrant rights.

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