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UNA-UK statement in response to the passing of the Rwanda Bill

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photo of UK parliament from opposite side of River Thames

The 1951 UN Refugee Convention set out refugee rights and the obligations of states to protect them which were then extended in the 1967 Protocol. The UK is a signatory of these conventions, which allows people to seek asylum in any country they choose. The convention prohibits penalisation on account of irregular entry to a country, meaning the way a person travels to the UK should not affect their asylum claim. UNA-UK has always campaigned - and will continue to campaign - for the convention to be adhered to and protected. 

Late on 22 April 2024, Parliament approved the Government's Rwanda Bill despite significant opposition, including a marathon battle of ‘ping-pong’ between the upper and lower chambers of Parliament, prior ruling by the UK Supreme Court deeming the Rwanda plan unlawful, and warnings from the United Nations Refugee Agency about its incompatibility with international law.  

This plan, which has already incurred substantial costs and caused immense distress, entails forcibly deporting asylum-seekers to Rwanda, over 5,000 miles away from the UK, for processing their asylum claims. Moreover, if granted refugee status, individuals would be compelled to settle in Rwanda rather than the UK. This approach is part of the Government's broader strategy to restrict asylum rights in the UK and undermine the human rights of those seeking refuge.  

UNA-UK strongly supports the reaction on the morning of the 23 April from Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and Volker Türk, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressing concern about the Rwanda Bill’s impact on global responsibility-sharing, human rights and refugee protection. UNA-UK also joins them in their call for the UK to reconsider its plan to transfer asylum-seekers to Rwanda and instead cooperate internationally to address refugee and migrant flows, while upholding human rights. 

“The new legislation marks a further step away from the UK’s long tradition of providing refuge to those in need, in breach of the Refugee Convention,”

“Protecting refugees requires all countries – not just those neighbouring crisis zones – to uphold their obligations. This arrangement seeks to shift responsibility for refugee protection, undermining international cooperation and setting a worrying global precedent.” - Filippo Grandi 

This legislation marks the third in a series of increasingly restrictive UK laws since 2022, undermining access to refugee protection. UNA-UK made a statement on the Illegal Migration Bill of 2023 and the earlier Nationality and Borders Bill of 2022 which included a ban on asylum for those entering irregularly via a third country. These three Bills mean that asylum-seekers, including families, can be sent to Rwanda without the chance of returning to the UK. Moreover, it severely limits asylum-seekers' ability to challenge deportation decisions, mandating decision-makers and judges to view Rwanda as "safe" for asylum-seekers, irrespective of evidence. 

Notably, the legislation empowers the Government to disregard protective measures from the European Court of Human Rights. The Council of Europe’s human rights watchdog has condemned the Government’s Rwanda scheme, saying it raises “major issues about the human rights of asylum seekers and the rule of law”. 

Sophie Radice, Head of Campaigns at UNA-UK, says:  

“Every individual deserves the opportunity to lead a secure life and seek refuge when faced with danger. This legislation disregards fundamental legal principles and international obligations including the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 protocol and jeopardises the safety of refugees who may be forced into an uncertain future in Rwanda. 

Rather than penalising individuals who have already endured immense suffering, we need policies rooted in compassion and focused on providing protection. It is time for those in positions of power to cease using some of the most vulnerable members of our society as political footballs. Instead, they must uphold the right to asylum in the UK and honour crucial international safeguarding laws.” 

The new legislation, despite being tabled alongside the UK-Rwanda Asylum Partnership Treaty, fails to address the Supreme Court's concerns about the inadequacies in Rwanda's asylum system. It restricts UK courts from properly reviewing removal decisions, leaving asylum-seekers with limited avenues for appeal even in high-risk situations. This legislation represents a departure from the UK's tradition of providing refuge, ultimately undermining international cooperation and setting a concerning precedent globally. 

Read more: 

  • Read UNA-UK's statement in response to the Illegal Migration Bill 
  • See the UN Refugees Agency’s account of Asylum in the UK  
  • Read UNA-UK's statement on the Nationality and Borders Bill 


Photo: A view of the Houses of Parliament. Source UK Parliament Flickr