Britain's plan to send migrants to Rwanda is lawful, London's High Court ruled on Monday, in a victory for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak who has made a high-stakes political promise to tackle the record number of migrant arrivals in small boats.
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The policy, which was announced in April, would involve Britain sending tens of thousands of migrants who arrive on its shores more than 4,000 miles away (6,400 km) to Rwanda.
Announcing the court's decision, judges Clive Lewis and Jonathan Swift said it was lawful for Britain to make arrangements with the Rwanda government to send asylum seekers to the country for their asylum claims to be determined there.
"The (British) government has made arrangements with the government of Rwanda which are intended to ensure that asylum claims of people relocated to Rwanda are properly determined there," the judges said.
"In those circumstances, the relocation of asylum seekers to Rwanda is consistent with the Refugee Convention and with the statutory and other legal obligations on the government."
The Prime Minister is under growing pressure from his own members of Parliament and the public to deal with the arrivals.
Figures show more than 40,000 — a record number — have come from France this year, many having made the journey from Afghanistan, Iran or other countries suffering war to travel across Europe and on to Britain to seek asylum.
Over the last decade migration has often dominated Britain's political discourse and is likely to feature heavily in the campaign for the next general election, expected to take place in 2024.
In one of his first major policy announcements, Sunak set out a strategy to clamp down on illegal immigration and said he wanted to restart the flights to Rwanda despite opposition from lawmakers in all the main political parties, the United Nations and even King Charles.
The first planned deportation flight to Rwanda was blocked in June by a last-minute injunction granted by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and the strategy's lawfulness was subsequently challenged by a judicial review at London's High Court.
Lawyers representing asylum seekers – from Syria, Iraq and Iran, as well as Albania and Vietnam – challenged the Rwanda policy at a hearing this year, alongside campaign groups Detention Action, Care4Calais and Asylum Aid.
A victory for the government will not mean flights can take off straight away because there may be further appeals in the British courts and the ECHR injunction imposed during the summer prevents any immediate deportations until the conclusion of legal action in the United Kingdom.
In a partial victory for the claimants, the judges said Britain's interior minister, the Home Secretary Suella Braverman, must consider properly the circumstances of each individual claimant.
The judges said a further hearing will take place on Jan. 16 to determine any applications for permission to appeal against the court’s decision.
"We are considering the position in relation to the policy being declared lawful, but we welcome the decision in relation to the individual claimants," said Toufique Hossain, a lawyer who represented six of the eight asylum seekers.
"The court has made it very clear that the (Home Secretary's) approach to individual decisions has been unlawful and they need to review that."