The government won a major ruling over its controversial plans to deport migrants to Rwanda and ministers say they're "committed" to making the scheme work, as Deputy Political Editor, Anushka Asthana reports
The Home Secretary has said she is “committed” to sending migrants to Rwanda as soon as possible after judges ruled the multi-million pound deal to curb Channel crossings was lawful.
Suella Braverman told MPs the High Court judgment “thoroughly vindicated” the Government’s policy – which she insisted is “compassionate”, “pragmatic” and “rational”.
Challenges were brought against the policy announced by then-home secretary Priti Patel in April, with Ms Patel describing it as a "world-first agreement" that would deter asylum seekers from crossing the Channel.
The first deportation flight – due to take off on June 14 – was grounded amid a series of challenges against individual removals and the policy as a whole.
But at the High Court in London on Monday, senior judges rejected arguments that the plans to provide one-way tickets to the east African nation were unlawful.
Lord Justice Lewis, sitting with Mr Justice Swift, dismissed the challenges against the policy as a whole, but ruled in favour of eight asylum seekers, finding the government had acted wrongly in their individual cases.
In a summary of the ruling read out in court, Lord Justice Lewis said: “The court has concluded that it is lawful for the government to make arrangements for relocating asylum seekers to Rwanda and for their asylum claims to be determined in Rwanda rather than in the United Kingdom."
"The relocation of asylum seekers to Rwanda is consistent with the Refugee Convention and with the statutory and other legal obligations on the government, including the obligations imposed by the Human Rights Act 1998," he added.
However, he said that the home secretary "has not properly considered" the eight individuals' cases, which meant the decisions to send them to Rwanda would be quashed and sent back to be reconsidered.
It is likely that Monday’s decision will be appealed against. Lord Justice Lewis added a further hearing would take place in mid-January to handle the consequences of the judgment, including costs and applications to go to the Court of Appeal.
Responding to the decision, Home Secretary Suella Braverman said: “Our ground-breaking migration partnership with Rwanda will provide individuals relocated with support to build new lives there, while disrupting the business model of people smuggling gangs putting lives at risk through dangerous and illegal small boat crossings.
“We have always maintained that this policy is lawful and today the court has upheld this," she said, adding, "we stand ready to defend against any further legal challenge."
At a five-day hearing in September, lawyers for several asylum seekers, along with the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) and charities Care4Calais and Detention Action, argued the plans were unlawful.
They told judges that Rwanda is an "authoritarian state" that "tortures and murders those it considers to be its opponents."
The High Court in London also heard the Home Office had been told state agents have "regularly targeted" Rwandan refugees in other countries.
UNHCR – the UN Refugee Agency – intervened in the case, telling the court that Rwanda "lacks irreducible minimum components of an accessible, reliable, fair and efficient asylum system," adding the policy would lead to a serious risk of breaches of the Refugee Convention.
In October, lawyers for the charity Asylum Aid also challenged the policy, arguing the policy’s procedure is "seriously unfair" and also unlawful.
The policy has also been contested on data protection grounds, with a Sudanese man arguing his personal data had unlawfully been shared with Rwandan authorities.
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The Home Office has defended the claims against the Rwanda policy in the past, arguing the Rwandan authorities have given "detailed assurances" over the processing of asylum claims and the ongoing treatment of individuals.
These include assurances that people deported to Rwanda will be provided with "adequate accommodation," food, free medical assistance, education, language and professional development training and “integration programmes”, judges were told.
The home secretary has provided a minimum of three years’ funding for each "relocated individual," and five years' support for anyone granted refugee status if they stay in Rwanda, lawyers also said.
Responding to the court's decision, Rwandan government spokeswoman Yolande Makolo said: "We welcome this decision and stand ready to offer asylum seekers and migrants safety and the opportunity to build a new life in Rwanda."
Care4Calais and Detention Action both said they were disappointed with the ruling and were considering whether to appeal against the decision.
"However, we will fight on. The Rwanda policy is brutal and harmful," Deputy director of Detention Action James Wilson said.
But Ms Braverman told the Commons on Monday that the policy was "compassionate" and "rational."
Rishi Sunak also welcomed the decision, telling broadcasters in Riga, Latvia: "We’ve always maintained that our Rwanda policy is lawful, and I’m pleased that was confirmed today and this is just one part of our plan to tackle illegal migration."
The prime minister’s official spokesman was unable to guarantee whether any flights carrying migrants would depart in 2023 but said the government stands ready to defend any further legal challenges.
"We want it to be done as soon as possible. I don’t think, while there is possibility of further legal action, we can put a specific timeframe on it," he said.
Care4Calais founder Clare Moseley said: "We remain steadfast in our opposition to the Rwanda policy and in our determination to ensure that no refugee is forcibly deported."
She added: "People who have suffered the horrors of war, torture and human rights abuses should not be faced with the immense trauma of deportation to a future where we cannot guarantee their safety.
"We believe that sending refugees to Rwanda will breach our county’s obligations under International Treaties and we continue to believe this policy is unlawful.
"The majority of people we work with in Calais come from countries such as Afghanistan, Iran, Syria and Sudan that have asylum acceptance rates that are as high as 82 - 98%.
"They are people who have been brave and resilient enough to have escaped from the very worst things in this world and they urgently need our help.
“The Rwanda plan won’t end small boat crossings and it won’t keep refugees safe. There is a kinder and more effective way; giving safe passage to refugees in Calais."
'Refugees are welcome here,' protesters chant outside the court on Monday
Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: "We are very disappointed in the outcome of this case," adding the plans would "damage the UK’s reputation as a country that values human rights."
"Treating people who are in search of safety like human cargo and shipping them off to another country is a cruel policy that will cause great human suffering. The scheme is wrong in principle."