An agreement over the deportation of some asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda contains “very significant safeguarding elements”, the High Court has been told.
Rwandan authorities have given “detailed assurances” over the processing of asylum claims and the ongoing treatment of individuals under a deal that could see some migrants sent to the east African country, Home Office lawyers argued.
Sir James Eadie QC, representing the Home Secretary, defended the policy against a challenge brought by several asylum seekers, along with the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) and charities Care4Calais and Detention Action, on Thursday.
The barrister said Rwanda was a “respected sovereign state”, a signatory to the Refugee Convention and member of the Commonwealth.
“Rwanda is well aware that the UK expects compliance,” he added.
Sir James said the scheme was one that both nations’ governments “have very strong vested interests in making work satisfactorily and as intended, in other words in a way that is lawful”.
The court heard that the purpose of a UK-Rwanda memorandum of understanding was to provide assurances that the UK “will be able safely to transfer individuals” to the east African country for the processing and determination of their asylum claims.
Sir James added that there were “powerful reasons” for concluding that “Rwanda will honour the commitments that it has solemnly made in all of these arrangements”.
The scheme should be judged “on its own context and on its own terms”, Sir James said, adding that it would be “carefully and independently monitored” by the UK Government, a “bespoke monitoring committee” and the UN Refugee Agency.
“There has been the most intensive consideration and investigation of that scheme imaginable,” he said.
Judges previously heard that in an internal note from March 2021, Foreign Office officials told then-foreign secretary Dominic Raab that if Rwanda was selected for the deportation policy “we would need to be prepared to constrain UK positions on Rwanda’s human rights record, and to absorb resulting criticism from UK Parliament and NGOs”.
In another memo, Foreign Office officials said they had advised Downing Street against engagement with several countries, including Rwanda, the court was told in written arguments.
Sir James told the court that there had been “active testing” within Government “of the question: is Rwanda safe?”
He said the Foreign Office and Foreign Secretary “have reconciled themselves to concerns raised and quite a lot of water has travelled under the bridge since 2021 concerns were expressed”.
UNHCR – the UN Refugee Agency – has previously told the court that the plans are “incompatible with UK’s fundamental obligations” and that Rwanda “lacks irreducible minimum components of an accessible, reliable, fair and efficient asylum system”.
It raised concerns with Home Office officials in March over the treatment of asylum seekers from the Middle East or who are LGBT, while lawyers for the asylum seekers and charities have also highlighted criticisms of a previous Israel-Rwanda asylum seeker removal agreement.
Sir James acknowledged criticisms of “historic and different systems” but argued these were of “limited if any real use” as the UK-Rwanda deal was a “new” set of arrangements that were “specifically designed with some of the concerns of history in mind”.
He argued that the court was entitled to make its own assessment of the deliverability of Rwanda’s assurances and that the UNHCR “does not have judicial or quasi judicial status”.
Sir James said the agency “are not expert, nor experienced in relation to these arrangements” and claimed it was “a matter for the expert judgment” of the UK Government.
“There can be a confident judgment that Rwanda will comply with these arrangements,” Sir James said.
The court was told that £120 million in funding had been provided to Rwanda to support economic development.
Assurances have been given that “relocated individuals” will be provided with “adequate accommodation”, food, free medical assistance, education, language and professional development training and “integration programmes”.
It is intended that an asylum claim will be determined within three months under the scheme, with legal advice and interpreters made available.
In April, former home secretary Priti Patel said the “world-first” agreement with Rwanda had been made in a bid to deter migrants from crossing the Channel by providing one-way tickets to some asylum seekers.
However, the first deportation flight, due to take off on June 14, was grounded amid a series of legal challenges.
Former attorney general Suella Braverman replaced Ms Patel in Prime Minister Liz Truss’s Cabinet this week.
The High Court was previously told that Rwanda is allegedly an “authoritarian state” that “tortures and murders those it considers to be its opponents”.
Raza Husain QC, representing a number of those bringing the case against the Government, argued the Home Secretary had acted “irrationally” in determining Rwanda was “in general a safe third country”, and that “neither the claimed economic benefit” of the policy, “nor its asserted efficacy as a deterrent, has any evidential foundation”.
The hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, before Mr Justice Swift and Lord Justice Lewis, began on Monday and is due to last for five days, with a second hearing in a claim brought by the group Asylum Aid taking place in October.
Decisions on both sets of claims are expected to be given in writing at the same time.