LONDON (Reuters) – The British government will launch an appeal at the UK Supreme Court on Monday to try to reverse a ruling that declared unlawful its plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.
Here are details about the case and the issue:
WHY IS IMMIGRATION SUCH AN ISSUE IN THE UK?
Taking back control of the country’s borders and ending the free movement of people was a major factor that led to the 2016 vote for Britain to leave the European Union.
Successive Conservative governments had promised to cut net migration to under 100,000 annually before dropping that pledge before an election in 2019.
While official data recording has changed, figures suggest that since Brexit net immigration has continued to rise, hitting a record of 606,000 in 2022, partly due to new visa routes for arrivals from Ukraine and Hong Kong.
Many Britons, particularly those in demographics targeted by the Conservatives, such as older voters, are opposed to greater migration, arguing it puts pressure on already stretched local services and they fear it damages community cohesion.
WHAT IS BRITAIN’S RWANDA PLAN?
The Rwanda plan, struck in April 2022 by then Prime Minister Boris Johnson, is designed to deter asylum seekers from making the dangerous journey of about 20 miles (32 km) across the Channel from Europe in small inflatable dinghies to England’s southern beaches.
Last year, a record 45,775 people were detected arriving without permission in Britain in this way. So far this year, more than 25,000 have arrived on small boats.
Under the scheme, anyone who arrived in Britain illegally after Jan. 1 last year faced deportation to Rwanda, some 4,000 miles (6,400 km) away, where their claims would be assessed.
However, the first deportation flight in June 2022 was blocked by a last-minute injunction from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), barring any deportations until the conclusion of legal action in Britain.
Under new legislation passed in July, anyone who arrives by small boat would have their asylum claims made inadmissible, and would be disqualified from using modern slavery laws to challenge government decisions to remove them in the courts.
The law also gives ministers the discretion to ignore ECHR injunctions. However, most of the provisions of the Act have not yet come into force.
WHAT IS THE RWANDA COURT CASE ABOUT?
London’s Court of Appeal concluded, by a two to one majority, in June that the scheme was not lawful because Rwanda could not be treated as a safe third country.
The government has appealed to the UK Supreme Court to overturn that, while a number of asylum seekers are also appealing to have the policy declared unlawful for other reasons. The court will hear the case over three days from Oct. 9, with a decision not expected for a few months.
WHY IS THE RWANDA POLICY SO IMPORTANT TO SUNAK?
After becoming prime minister in October last year he made “stopping the boats” one of his top five priorities.
Britain is currently spending more than 3 billion pounds a year on dealing with asylum applications, with the cost of housing migrants in hotels and other accommodation while their claims are processed running at about 6 million pounds a day.
Sending each asylum seeker to the African country would cost on average 169,000 pounds ($213,450), the government has said.
According to government figures in August, the backlog of asylum applications waiting for an initial decision hit a record high of more than 134,000, or 175,457 once dependents were included. Sunak had promised last December to clear this by the end of the year.
WILL THE UK LEAVE THE EUROPEAN CONVENTION ON HUMAN RIGHTS?
Home Secretary (interior minister) Suella Braverman has strongly hinted Britain would leave the European Convention on Human Rights if it thwarted the Rwanda scheme. Britain played a leading role in creating the accord in 1950 to protect individuals’ human rights.
Critics say pulling out of the Convention or the Court would deal a severe blow to Britain’s international reputation.
The Court itself said last year it dealt with 3,110 requests for interim measures but just five were granted in relation to the United Kingdom, while of its 1,163 judgments last year, only four concerned the UK.
HOW DOES UK COMPARE WITH OTHER COUNTRIES ON IMMIGRATION?
Australia pioneered the concept of holding asylum seekers in offshore detention centres. Denmark has signed a similar agreement with Rwanda, but has yet to send any migrants there.
The 27-nation EU is seeking to strike an agreement on how to share out the asylum seekers who arrived on its shores mostly from across the Mediterranean after fleeing wars and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia.
According to the House of Commons Library, which provides research for British lawmakers, there were about 13 asylum applications for every 10,000 people living in the United Kingdom in 2022, compared to 22 applications for every 10,000 people in the EU.
($1 = 0.8207 pounds)
(Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Angus MacSwan)