Britain and Rwanda signed a new treaty on Tuesday, aiming to revive a contentious proposal by London to transfer migrants to the East African country. The agreement was formalised by Rwandan Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta and British Interior Minister James Cleverly.
Cleverly journeyed to Kigali to salvage London’s stalled initiative after the UK Supreme Court deemed an earlier arrangement unlawful. The judges upheld a lower court decision, citing the policy’s incompatibility with Britain’s international obligations.
The concern stemmed from the potential for Kigali to forcibly return migrants to regions where they might face persecution. Despite the setback, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak remained resolute in advancing the controversial project.
He aimed to address the issues raised in the Supreme Court’s ruling last month, underscoring his commitment to persist with the initiative.
Cleverly emphasised the ongoing efforts to enhance the process, stating during a joint press briefing in Kigali, “There is a lot of desire to continue to improve the process. The UK and Rwanda are working on this because it is important.”
Biruta echoed Rwanda’s dedication to the partnership, affirming, “Rwanda is very committed to this partnership, and that is why we worked with the UK government to address the concerns raised by the Supreme Court.” Both officials asserted, “We do not have plans to withdraw from this partnership.”
Alain Mukuralinda, deputy spokesman for Rwanda’s government, outlined plans for the establishment of a joint tribunal involving Rwandan and UK judges in Kigali, aiming to ensure the safeguarding of immigrants relocated to Rwanda, stating, “We will set up a joint tribunal with both Rwandan and UK judges in Kigali… to make sure that none of the immigrants sent to Rwanda is deported to their country.”
Mukuralinda also highlighted the necessity for parliamentary approval in both countries for this tribunal, adding, “This tribunal will have to be approved and voted (on) by parliaments from both countries.”
While specific details of the new agreement were not disclosed, reports in British media indicated that the pact would encompass Rwanda’s commitments regarding the treatment of asylum-seekers and other migrants relocated there.
The UK Supreme Court’s recent decision posed a significant setback for Sunak’s plans. He intends to introduce “emergency legislation” in parliament, designating Rwanda as a safe country to alleviate the legal challenges surrounding the migration policy.
Sunak, expressing frustration, emphasised the urgency, stating in The Sun tabloid, “I’m fed up with our Rwanda policy being blocked. I’ve got the government working on emergency laws to end the merry-go-round so that we can fix this problem once and for all—and stop the boats.”
The migration partnership between the UK and Rwanda, initiated in April last year, aimed at redirecting individuals categorised by London as having made “dangerous or illegal journeys” to Britain from Europe or hidden in vehicles to Kigali.
The plan faced immediate legal hurdles in June 2022 when a European Court of Human Rights injunction halted the first deportations, resulting in subsequent legal challenges.
Activists, including Yasmine Ahmed, UK director at Human Rights Watch, criticised the scheme, urging the British government to acknowledge Rwanda’s history of human rights violations against refugees and asylum seekers.
Rwanda safe despite human rights abuses
Rwanda, under the leadership of Paul Kagame since the 1994 genocide, is navigating its political landscape with upcoming elections, where Kagame seeks to extend his tenure after winning nearly 99 percent of the vote in 2017.
Despite criticisms, Britain’s government defends the bilateral initiative, citing its importance in deterring “illegal” immigration from France via inflatable vessels across the Channel, a sensitive topic expected to feature prominently in the anticipated general election next year.
James Cleverly emphasised the importance of the partnership and the commitment to address concerns, stating, “We are clear that Rwanda is a safe country, and we are working at pace to move forward with this partnership to stop the boats and save lives.
The Supreme Court recognised that changes may be delivered in the future to address the conclusions they reached, and that is what we have set out to do together with this new, internationally recognised treaty agreement.”