At the end of an intense battle between the House of Lords and the House of Commons, the British Parliament approved the Safety of Rwanda bill on the night of Monday to Tuesday, April 23, paving the way for the expulsion to this East African country of asylum seekers who arrived illegally in the United Kingdom.

Backed by a new treaty between London and Kigali which provides for the payment of substantial sums to Rwanda in exchange for the reception of asylum seekers, the text aims to respond to the conclusions of the Supreme Court, which ruled in November on illegal initial project.

Its many detractors consider the bill contrary to international law, impossible to implement, immoral, complicated and expensive. Several appeals have been filed in court.

Concluded in April 2022, when former Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson was in office, the “partnership” with Kigali plans to expel foreigners who arrived “illegally or by dangerous or unnecessary means from safe countries” to Rwanda. after January 1, 2022, regardless of their origin.

The examination of asylum applications is entrusted to Kigali. If approved, applicants will be allowed to stay in Rwanda. Otherwise, they can ask to settle there for other reasons, or request another “safe third country”. Whatever the outcome of this review, applicants have no option of returning to the United Kingdom. This is a complete delegation of responsibilities from the UK in relation to the review of applications.

The conservative government of Boris Johnson, at the origin of the initiative, considered it necessary to find new brakes on the increase in asylum requests and illegal arrivals. The project aimed to dissuade foreigners from crossing the Channel at the risk of their lives to seek asylum in the United Kingdom.

More than 45,000 people made the crossing in 2022, which was unprecedented. The figure returned to 30,000 the following year, but a further increase of 20% has been recorded since the start of 2024, with more than 6,200 arrivals, according to the Agence France-Presse count. According to a parliamentary report, more than 67,000 asylum applications were submitted in 2023.

The fight against illegal immigration was at the heart of the Brexit debate in 2016, and, like his Conservative predecessors, the current Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, made it one of his priorities when he arrived at Downing Street in October 2022. The Tories are counting on the text to reverse the electoral balance of power before the legislative elections which could take place in the fall. Labor currently has a 20-point lead in voting intentions.

Under the agreement reached with Kigali in April 2022, a first flight was scheduled to take off for Rwanda in June 2022, but the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ordered its cancellation at the very last minute. Rishi Sunak promised on Monday to start sending asylum seekers there within ten to twelve weeks, that is to say in July.

According to the BBC, 52,000 asylum seekers could be affected. The head of government did not provide a figure, but promised that there would be “several flights per month during the summer and thereafter”. Planes have already been reserved and flights scheduled, he added. Five hundred people will be responsible for escorting the deportees to the planes.

In mid-November 2023, the UK Supreme Court ruled the bill illegal. The highest court ruled that foreigners sent to Rwanda risked being deported back to their country of origin, where their security cannot be guaranteed, which contravenes Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. man on torture and inhuman treatment, to which the United Kingdom is a signatory.

Determined to see the project through, the government presented a new version that defines Rwanda as a “safe country” and, under a new bilateral treaty signed in December, prevents the return of foreigners expelled there to their country original. The text also forces judicial authorities to ignore certain provisions of British law relating to respect for human rights in order to limit recourse, and frees the government from injunctions from the ECHR.

The right wing of the Conservative Party wanted the government to simply withdraw from several international treaties, including the European Convention on Human Rights, to prevent appeals. The House of Lords, where the Conservatives do not have a majority, delayed the final adoption of the text by constantly sending it back to the House of Commons with amendments, which were in turn systematically rejected by the deputies. The Lords, who are not elected, finally bowed to the will of the House of Commons designated by universal suffrage, and decided not to amend the text any further, which allowed its adoption.

With the new version of the text, which recognizes Rwanda as a “safe” country in terms of asylum, the government intends to limit legal recourse. He nevertheless expects numerous legal challenges, which could in particular be deemed admissible for personal reasons, such as health or sexual orientation.

Rishi Sunak ensures he is ready: according to him, 150 judges and 25 courts have been identified to examine these appeals urgently.

In its November 2023 ruling, the British Supreme Court expressed “deep concerns” about the respect for human rights and treatment of refugees by Rwandan authorities. The judges, who ruled unanimously against the bill, further point out that the British government in 2021 called on Kigali to “conduct transparent, credible and independent investigations into allegations of extrajudicial executions, deaths in detention, enforced disappearances and torture”. They also recall that in 2018, Rwandan police opened fire on refugees who were demonstrating, causing the death of twelve people.

“Given that Rwanda has ratified numerous international human rights conventions, including the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, this raises concerns serious questions about compliance with its international obligations,” they add.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has also repeatedly expressed concerns about respect for the right to asylum in Rwanda.

Although no expulsions have yet taken place, the UK has already paid 220 million pounds (256 million euros) to Rwanda. London has also agreed to allocate an additional 150 million pounds over the next three years and 120 million once the first three hundred asylum seekers have been sent there, according to the National Audit Office. To this total are added an additional 20,000 pounds per person expelled and 150,874 for the costs of processing each case.

The British text has sparked strong criticism, particularly at the United Nations (UN), whose High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, believes that it goes “against the fundamental principles of human rights”. The UN special rapporteurs on human trafficking, migrants’ rights and torture on Monday warned airlines and authorities that facilitate affected flights that they “may be complicit in a violation of guaranteed human rights at an international level “.

For its part, the Council of Europe asked London to reconsider its project. “I have serious human rights concerns about the UK’s Rwanda Bill. Its adoption by the British Parliament raises major questions about the rights of asylum seekers and the rule of law,” writes Michael O’Flaherty, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, in a communicated.

Many human rights movements, such as Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch, were also outraged.