Sending asylum seekers to Rwanda would not be a “punishment” if it is considered a “safe third country”, the Supreme Court has been told.
Lawyers representing the Ministry of the Interior began a hearing on Wednesday to outline the government’s defense against plans to deport some migrants to the East African country.
Several asylum seekers, along with the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) and charities Care4Calais and Detention Action, are taking legal action against a policy first announced by former Home Secretary Priti Patel.
On Wednesday, Home Office representative Lord Pannick QC said the Home Secretary had the legal “authority” to certify that a country is safe for someone seeking asylum without being on a list of Parliamentarians. approved countries.
He said that “in all cases” of an asylum application, the interior minister must form her opinion “on the general security of the country itself and also … must take into account the security of the individual given their specific circumstances”.
He claimed that according to an international treaty on the treatment of refugees, the “concept of punishments…does not cover the removal of an asylum seeker to a safe third country”.
Lord Pannick said the UK was “not obliged” and “not obliged” to review an asylum application if it chose to send a person to a safe third country.
The Home Secretary’s legal team said its written arguments: “Relocation to a safe third country is not a criminal penalty and is not imposed as a penalty.”
The UN refugee agency has previously told judges that the government’s plan for Rwanda is “incompatible with the UK’s fundamental obligations” and that the East African country “misses irreducible minimum components of an accessible, reliable, fair and efficient asylum system”.
But Home Office lawyers say the memorandum of understanding agreed between the UK and Rwanda guarantees that anyone sent there will have a “safe and effective” procedure for determining refugee status.
In written submissions, the Interior Minister’s legal team also argued that there is no risk that those who have not been granted refugee status in Rwanda will be removed to their country of origin, adding: “Rwanda does not carry out forced removals to the countries of which these claimants are nationals.”
“There is also a financial incentive for Rwanda to accept individuals as they receive a payment to cover the cost of processing each asylum application,” they said.
The interior minister has secured funding for a minimum of three years for each “person relocated,” and five years of support for anyone who will receive refugee status if they remain in Rwanda, lawyers said.
Guarantees have been given that “relocated individuals” will be provided with “adequate accommodation”, food, free medical assistance, education, language and professional development training and “integration programs”, according to the legal team of the Ministry of the Interior.
“There is therefore no general policy that applies to everyone,” lawyers said of the Rwanda plan, adding: “The measure requires an individualized, case-specific approach.”
“The structure of the scheme provides for multi-stage access to legal advice,” she added.
In April, Ms Patel said the “first” agreement had been made with Rwanda to deter migrants from crossing the Channel by providing some asylum seekers with a one-way ticket.
However, the first deportation flight, due to depart on June 14, was grounded amid a series of legal challenges.
Former Attorney General Suella Braverman replaced Ms Patel in Prime Minister Liz Truss’ cabinet this week.
The Supreme Court was previously told that Rwanda is allegedly an “authoritarian state” that “tortures and murders people it considers its opponents”.
Raza Husain QC, who represents some of those who have brought the case against the government, said that “a presumption of security should be adequately supported from the outset” with regard to the processing of an asylum application.
In written arguments, Mr Husain said the Interior Minister had acted “irrationally” in stating that Rwanda was “a safe third country in general”, and that “neither the alleged economic benefit” of the policy, “nor the its purported effectiveness as a deterrent, has any evidence”.
The hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, for Mr Justice Swift and Lord Justice Lewis, started Monday and will last five days, with a second hearing in a claim by the Asylum Aid group set to take place in October.
Decisions on both sets of claims are deemed to be made simultaneously in writing.