What we know about the Rwanda Act and Treaty so far

Legal Updates

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Migration is life
No one is illegal
These walls must fall

This blog was originally published on 29 April 2024 and updated on 15 May 2024. It was updated again on 24 May 2024 to reflect:

  • The Prime Minister’s announcement of a General Election
  • Disputing Notices of Intent, including Bail for Immigration Detainees’ guide 
  • The success rate of those being released on bail from detention under Rwanda powers

On Friday 25 April, the government’s Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Act 2024 received Royal Assent and became law. At the same time, the UK’s Treaty (agreement) with Rwanda was ratified. This means that the treaty has become legally binding upon the UK and Rwanda. 

This is a dark moment for the UK, and will cause much harm to many communities. 

This blog includes the following information: 

To read a simple summary of the Act (then a Bill) and the Treaty, read our previous Legal Update blog. 

The passing of the Act and ratification of the Treaty

The passing of the Act means that the UK government has gone directly against the judgment of the Supreme Court in November 2023 which unequivocally decided that Rwanda is not a safe third country. This means that the Court found that Rwanda is not a safe country to remove someone to because there is no guarantee that Rwanda would be a safe place for them, or that it would refrain from sending them to their country of origin where they could be at risk of danger). For this reason, it was decided that the UK government could not legally continue to pursue the initiative to remove people claiming asylum in the UK to Rwanda. You can read more about the Supreme Court’s decision here

In order to get around this decision – and, unusually for the political setup in the UK, which separates power between the government, the Parliament, and the courts so that no one institution becomes too powerful and threatens democracy – the UK government then introduced the Safety of Rwanda Bill (now Act) in December 2023. 

In trying to get around every legal and political action that has stopped flights to Rwanda so far, the Act attempts to effectively shield Rwanda from any criticism or appeal. It strips legal and political bodies of the right to criticise individual decisions or the Act/Treaty at large. The Act: 

  • States that every decision-maker (this means Home Office immigration officers and judges in courts) must treat Rwanda as a safe country
  • Disapplies the provisions of the Human Rights Act
  • Limits the ability of the European Court of Human Rights to implement interim measures (for example, to stop a flight)
  • Prevents all courts/tribunals from considering any appeals, claims, or complaints (from individuals who have been sent Rwanda removal directions) that are about:
    • Rwanda not being a safe country (unless this relates to the specific individual and their circumstances), or
    • Rwanda potentially removing a person to another State against its international legal obligations, or
    • The risk that Rwanda will not consider an asylum/immigration claim fairly or properly, or
    • The risk that Rwanda will not Act in accordance with the Rwanda Treaty.

The Act was pushed through Parliament very, very quickly and became law on 25 April 2024. You can read the full Act here.

The ratification of the Treaty is also very controversial. The House of Lords (the unelected chamber of the UK Parliament) voted in January to defeat the government’s ratification of the Treaty because the protections promised in the Treaty (which would supposedly make Rwanda a safe third country) have not yet been put into place. The Treaty has therefore been ratified without the safeguards that are meant to provide alleged assurances of safety

The Treaty also seeks to set up ‘mechanisms’ to make the relocation of people who have claimed asylum in the UK to Rwanda happen. This includes effectively setting up an entirely separate judicial system dedicated specifically to Rwanda decisions. This is unusual and highly unlikely to be practical, given that the judiciary in the UK (and particularly the immigration/asylum system) is under extreme pressure and arguably at crisis point. You can read the full Treaty here

This means that the Act has passed against the judgment of the Supreme Court, and the Treaty has been ratified without full approval from Parliament (without safeguards in place).

What does this mean in reality? Who is at risk of receiving Rwanda removal directions?

This is devastating for the migrant community in the UK: even if no one ever ends up on a flight to Rwanda, the fear, misinformation, and grief surrounding this initiative is huge. 

The passing of the Act and ratification of the Treaty means that people who fulfil the requirements of removal to Rwanda have already and will continue to receive notices of removal from the Home Office. There will also be an increase in the number of people who are at risk of, and end up in, pre-removal detention in the UK. 

You may be at risk of detention/removal to Rwanda if:

  • If you received a decision under the inadmissibility rules (this comes after a notice of intent letter)
  • If you received a removal decision
  • If you received removal directions which specifically mentions Rwanda
  • See the section immediately below on ‘New guidance on removals to Rwanda’ for further groups at risk

You can read more about the Inadmissibility Rules in our Toolkit page here

Generally, an asylum claim in the UK may be found to be inadmissible if the person who claims asylum has or had a connection to another safe third country. For example, if they stayed in another European country on their way to the UK, or received refugee status in another country. Confusingly, under the Illegal Migration Act 2023, anyone who arrived in the UK after 20 July 2023 falls into this category. You can read more about the Illegal Migration Act in our Legal Update here

The Home Office guidance on inadmissibility says that, a person who is otherwise suitable for inadmissibility action may be eligible for removal to Rwanda if:

  • you claimed asylum on or after 1 January 2022, and
  • your journey to the UK can be described as having been dangerous
  • you do not have families with children under the age of 18 may (although families with children may be considered for inadmissibility action where removal is to other countries).

New Home Office guidance on removals to Rwanda

On 13 May, the Home Office published new guidance for its staff on removals to Rwanda. You can read the full guidance here

The guidance is aimed at Home Office staff who are considering claims from people whose asylum claims in the UK have been unsuccessful and are being considered for removal to Rwanda.

This guidance expands the group of people at risk of detention / removal to Rwanda to include people who

  • have had an earlier protection or human rights claim refused, withdrawn or treated as withdrawn under paragraph 333C of the Immigration Rules
  • do not have an appeal pending against a previous refusal of a protection or human rights claim
  • are liable to removal from the UK under section 10(1) of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 (1999 Act) on the basis that they do not have leave to enter or remain 

The guidance goes on to outline how Home Office staff should consider claims from people who dispute Rwanda removal based on their individual circumstances, human rights, medical conditions, or risk of suicide

Almost each element is subject to a ‘compelling evidence’ test. This means that the onus (burden) is on the person making the claim to show that the evidence is reliable and can be verified. What counts as ‘compelling’ will vary in each case, and the absence of documentary evidence (this means documents) does not necessarily mean a claim is bound to fail. 

As devastating as the Rwanda initiative and the government’s determination to pursue it is, it is important to bear in mind the following facts: 

  • When thinking about removal, it is important to note that section 2 of the Illegal Migration Act, amongst many other sections – upon which the rest of the Act depends – has not yet been enforced. This means that, although the Illegal Migration Act is a law that has been passed, it has not been implemented in real life. Read more about this here.
  • In order for someone to be sent to Rwanda under the Act or Treaty, they must first endure a period of detention. The risk of being sent to Rwanda applies to hundreds of thousands of people in the UK. Detention centres in the UK are already almost at capacity. It is not practically possible to detain everyone who is at risk of removal to Rwanda. 
  • Reports speculating about how many people the Rwandan government has agreed to accept from the UK vary – no one number has been confirmed. The figures we have heard of range from 200 to 2,000 by the end of 2024. Although we believe that no one should be sent to Rwanda from the UK, this shows how small scale the plan really is, and how much of it is a tactic used to isolate and terrify people claiming asylum in the UK. 
  • Since January 2021 when the Inadmissibility Rules were initially introduced, over 77,000 people have received notices of inadmissibility (a notice from the Home Office that they are considering whether a person falls under the rules). Of that group, 84 have received a decision of inadmissibility (a decision that the person does indeed fall under the rules). In total, 25 people have been removed from the UK under the inadmissibility rules, and most of them are EU or EEA citizens because people from those countries are not allowed to claim asylum in the UK.
  • In reality, the majority of people detained under Rwanda powers have been successful in being released from detention under bail. This is because detention under Rwanda powers is on the condition that removal is ‘imminent’. Even before the General Election announcement, Rishi Sunak had said that the first flights would not take off for at least 10-12 weeks. That is too long a period to be considered ‘imminent’ removal.

On specific appeals against specific individuals being sent to Rwanda, the Prime Minister has said that 25 courtrooms and hundreds of judges would be made available to preside over hearings. However, representatives of the judiciary have made clear that the deployment of judges is a matter for the judiciary, not the government.

The 2024 General Election

On Wednesday 22 May 2024, the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced that a General Election will be held in the UK on 4 July 2024. It was then announced that no plans would be made for flights to take off to Rwanda before the election. 

This means that, for now, the Rwanda plan has been ‘halted’ (stopped or paused). 

After the election, if the Labour party wins, we are uncertain of what this could mean for the Rwanda plan. Although the party has been staunchly against removing people to Rwanda, it has made no promises to repeal (undo) the Rwanda Act and Treaty.

If the Conservative party wins (which is unlikely), Rishi Sunak has said that if he is elected as Prime Minister, he will try to get the first flight out on 5 July, the day after the election. Again, this is unlikely because of logistical issues. 

Also, the majority of people detained under Rwanda powers are being released on bail because their removal is not ‘imminent’ (immediate), and no date has been confirmed.

How can a Rwanda removal notice be disputed?

There is one restricted instance in which removal to Rwanda under the Act can be disputed or appealed. The Act says that when a court is considering a review or appeal of a decision to remove a person to Rwanda, the court may grant an interim remedy (to prevent or delay) removal to Rwanda only if the court is satisfied that the person would face a real, imminent and foreseeable risk of serious and irreversible harm if removed to the Rwanda. 

This is a very stringent threshold to reach, and must be specific to the person. You (or your lawyer) must show why you specifically would face a real, imminent (that means immediate), and foreseeable risk of serious and irreversible harm if you were removed to Rwanda. It is not enough to say that Rwanda is a generally dangerous place where many people would face this kind of harm or risk. 

Duncan Lewis Solicitors’ Public Team is preparing to represent people who have been detained with and need to dispute Rwanda removal directions. They have sent workflow instructions to detention organisations, so please get in touch with them should you require representation or if you are supporting someone in detention.

The organisation Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID) published a basic guide and template for people who have been detained under Rwanda powers with a Notice of Intent. You have just 7 days to make submissions to the Home Office about why you should not be removed, or to request an extension. You can access the guide here.

To call Bail for Immigration Detainees: 02074569750 or email rwanda@biduk.org

To call SOAS Detainee Support: 07438407570

To call Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group: 01293657070

To call Detention Action: 08005872096

Wilsons Solicitors are also taking Rwanda referrals. You can email them on rwandareferrals@wilsonllp.co.uk.

How can you prepare for detention?

We are currently in the process of updating and adding more to our detention resources at Right to Remain. 

In the meantime, please refer to our Immigration Reporting and Detention Toolkit page, which includes information on what detention is like and how best to prepare in case you are detained. 

The Home Office’s intended Rwanda detention ‘operation’

On Sunday 28 April 2024, the Guardian newspaper reported that detention of people at risk of being deported to Rwanda starts on Monday 29 April 2024.

The article says “Officials plan to hold refugees who turn up for routine meetings at immigration service offices and will also pick people up nationwide in a major two-week exercise.

Following the publication of the Guardian article, the Home Office issued this statement on 1 May about the operation.

Legal challenges to the Rwanda Act and policy

Challenge to the Act

On 1 May, the FDA (Civil Servants’ Union) brought a judicial review challenge against the government regarding the Rwanda Act. You can read the press release about the case here.

The FDA’s challenge states that the Rwanda Act puts civil servants in a very difficult position. All civil servants must strictly follow the Civil Service Code – they are legally obliged to do so. Under the new Rwanda Act, government ministers may have discretion (the choice) to ignore Rule 39 orders from the European Court of Human Rights. The FDA states that:

“Ignoring a Rule 39 order would be a breach of international law and civil servants have a legal obligation under the Civil Service Code to “uphold the rule of law and administration of justice”.

This means that civil servants would either break the law by not adhering to the new Act, or break their legal duty as civil servants by adhering to it. 

Challenge to the policy

On 3 May, the organisation Asylum Aid brought a legal challenge against the government about the policy issued to guide Home Office staff on how to implement the Rwanda Act. You can read more about the legal challenge here

Asylum Aid said in its Pre-Action Protocol letter that: 

The Home Office’s policy, which was issued on 29 April, requires its caseworkers to assume that Rwanda is generally safe, as set out in section 2 of the Rwanda Act. It goes on to instruct caseworkers that when considering any protection claim made by a person being sent to Rwanda, they “must” conclude that Rwanda is safe, even if presented with compelling evidence that it is not safe for that person based on their individual circumstances. It also tells caseworkers that they “must not consider claims on the basis that Rwanda will or may remove or send the person in question to an unsafe state”. This however, is at odds with the Rwanda Act, section 4, which allows a person seeking asylum to challenge their removal to Rwanda on the basis of “compelling evidence relating specifically to the person’s particular individual circumstances” that Rwanda is not safe for them.”

In summary, Asylum Aid argued that the policy which accompanies the Safety of Rwanda Act and instructs Home Office caseworkers on how to interpret it, goes against the Act itself. It is much more stringent than the Act and says that absolutely no evidence (even of individual circumstances) can be considered and that Rwanda must be considered safe for all. However, even the Act itself allows for individual compelling evidence of irreversible harm to the individual if they were sent to Rwanda. 

On 10 May, in a win for Asylum Aid, the Home Office agreed to amend parts of the policy and agreed that it had misinterpreted the Rwanda Act:

The Home Office has confirmed that the individual’s reasons that Rwanda isn’t safe for them need to be considered in relation to any decision on whether their claim is inadmissible as well as in relation to any human rights decision and has accepted that its guidance needs to be amended to reflect this.  

In its response to Asylum Aid’s pre-action protocol letter, the Home Office informed the charity that while caseworkers will continue to work on cases, no decisions will be made until the amended guidance has been published and until the error Asylum Aid identifies is corrected.  

However, Asylum Aid will be continuing with its judicial review challenge, as the Home Office did not agree with all the points raised. Asylum Aid argues (and the Home Office disagrees) that section 4 of the Rwanda Act allows an individual who is on the list to be sent to Rwanda to challenge their removal on grounds that Rwanda might send them to another country, including the one they fled from. The Home Office should be allowed to consider the risk of Rwanda sending an individual to another country where there is evidence that they would be at risk of torture, death or other serious human rights violations.

Rwanda Voluntary removal scheme

Separately, we have received reports that the Home Office is calling people to offer ‘voluntary departure’ to Rwanda

This scheme is separate to the Rwanda Act and Treaty. Instead, this ‘voluntary departure’ scheme is similar to the current ‘voluntary returns’ procedure where the Home Office offers people money to return to their country of origin, except, instead of returning to their country of origin, the Home Office is offering people £3,000 each to move to Rwanda and start a new life there instead. We believe that this scheme is being offered to people whose asylum claims have been ‘refused’ in the UK. 

We still have limited information about this initiative, but we recommend the following if the Home Office calls you with this offer:

  • You do NOT have to say yes. It is a ‘voluntary’ scheme (it is optional). 
  • Do NOT respond until you have legal advice. 
  • Ask the Home Office to send the offer to you in writing (via a letter or email).
  • Try to find legal representation. 
  • We know that it is hard to find a lawyer at this time, but you can use the tools in our ‘Lawyers’ Toolkit page to help here.

Further resources

For further, simple information on the Rwanda Act and Treaty, see: 

  • These tips published by the Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit (GMIAU).
  • This guide published by Kids in Need of Defence (KIND). 
  • This one pager published by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI). 

For further information on related issues, see our resources on:

Actions you can take 

We know this is a terrifying time. We stand in solidarity with all those affected by this initiative, and all those supporting them. Now more than ever is a time for our communities to stand together against the cruel initiatives that go against our collective values and respect for each other, as human beings. 

We suggest the following, and will update this list as we learn more:

  • Take the time to understand and share this information with people in your community, and particularly those who are at risk of being detained. 
  • If you report at a Home Office centre, or are part of a signing support group, be at high alert at immigration reporting centres. Here’s an example of These Walls Must Fall campaigners showing solidarity with people who need to report in Liverpool. 
  • Join, follow, and support local anti-raids groups, migrant support groups, community groups supporting people held in hotels and other types of accommodation to remain alert about possible detention enforcement activity near you. 
  • If you are supporting people outside reporting centres, read these tips provided by Maggy, our These Walls Must Fall Organiser. 
  • Volunteer as a visitor with detention support groups. Groups such as AVID and Gatwick Detainee Welfare Group need more volunteers to support their efforts with people who are currently in detention. You can learn more here and here
  • If you have been detained, contact a detention organisation (details below) and tell them that you have been detained with Rwanda removal directions. They will provide you with support, and put you in touch with legal representatives.
  • If you have not received a decision of Inadmissibility, but you have received a notice of intent under the Inadmissibility Rules, try to find a lawyer and explain your situation. You can try to find a lawyer using our Toolkit page here.

As always, we at Right to Remain are here to help you understand your rights – no matter how much the government tries to make them more difficult to access or limit them. It goes without saying that we vehemently disagree with and condemn the Rwanda initiative and all other enforcement and bordering activities. 

No one is illegal. 

These walls must fall. 

Migration is life.

8 comments on “What we know about the Rwanda Act and Treaty so far

  1. Georgia Trapp on

    Thank you for this amazing resource and so quickly updated! Just pointing out a typo in the first paragraph – the Supreme Court judgement was November 2023 not 2024!

    Reply
  2. Abubakar Muhamed. on

    Living as an asylum seeker in the UK has been one of the most torturous experiences I’ve ever known. For years, I’ve been allowed to move around, make friends, contribute to the community through volunteer work, and set up my life, ready to give my best to this country. Yet, after three or more years, I received a paper – a supposed judgment made by an entitled human being who is just like me – telling me that my existence is a lie and that they have to decide what to do with me.

    As I look around, I see an asylum seeker who has been with me in the hotel all these years. He has been unconcerned about the community, more than a threat to himself and others, caught stealing, stabbing, or fighting with people. Yet, a decision granting him leave to remain has been sent to him. I ponder, trying to make sense of the situation – are they rewarding crime and punishing those who positively contribute to the community with removal?

    Looking back, from childhood, I haven’t had any stable life. I have no memories of life with my family or loved ones. My memory is full of moving from one place to another in search of safety, becoming a victim of modern slavery, struggling to find a reason to continue existing. I’ve fought depression, anxieties, still bearing the scars of internal and external injuries that need treatment, hanging on the thin line of health and safety, waiting for backlogs to clear just to see if one of the symptoms of my situation would be taken care of.

    Yet, the Home Office’s main concern is how I should be deported, how I don’t deserve to exist, how dare I, an invader, seek good health instead of dying. This is my reality, a reality I still live in, where many of my body parts might soon become non-functional if not treated. And in all this, I cannot stop my mental health from taking a dive with the announcement of the Rwanda Act and if i die today, my only regret would be living in a world where good people are not rewarded for their acts.

    Reply
  3. Debora Hill on

    very well written. I quickly read through highlights of areas of interest and understood the writing as it was not riddled with jargon et. thank you.

    Reply

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