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Legal challenge to controversial UK-Rwanda deportation policy

Updated: Sep 13, 2023

By Xuanyi Lee

The High Court has refused to grant an injunction stopping the Home Office’s removal of the first group of asylum seekers to Rwanda under the UK-Rwanda Migration and Economic Development Partnership. This decision was upheld by the Court of Appeal and permission to appeal to the Supreme Court was refused.

However, in the moments before the first flight under the policy was due to depart, the European Court of Human Rights (“ECHR”) granted an injunction.

What is the UK-Rwanda Partnership?

The UK-Rwanda Partnership was agreed in April 2022. Primarily, the agreement allows the UK to send asylum seekers deemed ‘inadmissible’ to the UK’s asylum system to Rwanda. These asylum seekers are ineligible for return to the UK. In exchange, the UK will pay £120m to Rwanda, as well as fund any ‘processing and integration costs’ necessary under the scheme. [1]

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the policy received fierce criticism from many quarters. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (“UNHCR”) stated that it “remains firmly opposed to arrangements that seek to transfer refugees and asylum seekers to third countries in the absence of sufficient safeguards and standards”. [2] Twenty-five Church of England bishops issued an open letter deploring the policy as an “immoral policy that shames Britain”. [3]

The legal challenge

Several human rights groups and campaigners (such as Detention Action, Care4Calais and the Public and Commercial Services Union) filed for an injunction to stop the first flight under the scheme. The filing was refused, as the judge did not consider there to be a real risk of ill treatment or refoulement contrary to requirements under the 1951 Refugee Convention. There was a material public interest in allowing the policy to stand. The Court of Appeal subsequently dismissed the claimant’s appeal and permission to appeal to the Supreme Court was refused. [4]

Notably, the policy is due to be subject to a substantive judicial review hearing before the end of July. It was for this reason that the ECHR issued an urgent interim measure, ruling that the flights to Rwanda under the policy should not go ahead “until three weeks after the delivery of the final domestic decision in [the] ongoing judicial review proceedings”. [5]


[1] P Butchard, M Gower, “UK-Rwanda Migration and Economic Development Partnership”, House of Commons Library Research Briefing Number 9568 (2022)

[2] Press release titled “UN Refugee Agency opposes UK plan to export asylum” dated 14 April 2022 accessed 14 June 2022

[3] Press release titled “Bishops' letter to The Times on the Rwanda asylum policy” dated 14 June 2022 accessed 14 June 2022

[4] Press release titled “Rwanda permission to appeal application refused” dated 14 June 2022 accessed 14 June 2022

[5] Press release titled “The European Court grants urgent interim measure in case concerning asylum seeker’s imminent removal from the UK to Rwanda” dated 14 June 2022


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