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Rwanda plan faces another challenge in court

By Jonathan Powell in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-06-07 02:53

Photo taken in January shows UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaking during a press conference in Downing Street in London after he saw the Safety of Rwanda Bill pass its third reading in the House of Commons. [Photo/Agencies]

Government officials in the United Kingdom would be breaking the law by implementing the government's plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda in breach of an order from Europe's human rights court, a trade union told London's High Court on Thursday.

The FDA union, representing public service professionals, launched legal action against the government over guidance issued to civil servants on how to implement decisions to remove people to Rwanda.

Lawyers for the FDA union said civil servants are required to comply with measures issued by the European Court of Human Rights, or ECHR, which is based in Strasbourg, France.

Conversely, UK government guidance tells officials, known as civil servants, they must obey ministers who decide to ignore such temporary injunctions, known as interim measures.

The FDA's lawyers told the court this would unlawfully involve civil servants in "a clear violation of international law" in breach of their code of conduct, reported Reuters.

"The Strasbourg court has made clear beyond any doubt that interim measures are not optional," the union's lawyer Tom Hickman said.

The UK government's plan to deport some asylum seekers to Rwanda, approved by Parliament in April, is facing several legal challenges, with all flights postponed until after the country's general election on July 4.

The legal hearing concluded on Thursday, with a decision expected in writing at a later date. In a separate court case this week, the government announced plans to begin deportations to Rwanda by late July, with the first flight set for July 24. This was disclosed during a hearing on Monday for a legal challenge brought by the charity Asylum Aid.

The government's plan states that asylum seekers entering the UK "illegally" from safe countries including France could be sent to Rwanda for processing. If approved, they could receive refugee status and stay in Rwanda. Unsuccessful applicants could seek settlement in Rwanda or asylum in another safe country, excluding the UK. The measure aims to discourage people crossing the English Channel in small boats.

When the legislation passed, there were 52,000 asylum seekers who could potentially be deported to Rwanda, reported the BBC.

In November, the UK Supreme Court unanimously declared the Rwanda policy unlawful, stating it posed a risk of genuine refugees being returned to their home countries where they could face harm.

Labour Party leader Keir Starmer has said he intends to abolish the Rwanda deportation policy if he is elected prime minister, instead opting to utilize counter-terrorism measures to combat the trafficking of individuals across the English Channel by criminal groups.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said flights will go ahead "if I'm re-elected".

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