Rwanda accuses UN refugee agency of lying in British asylum policy case

UN lawyers say British refugee deportation plan could see Rwanda send them elsewhere, exposing them to further dangers.

View of Immigration Removal Centre at Heathrow in Middlesex as UK prepares for Rwanda deportations
View of the Heathrow Immigration Removal Centre in Middlesex as the UK prepares for Rwanda deportations, taken on May 2, 2024 [Gerhard Mey/Reuters]

Rwanda has accused the United Nations refugee agency of lying after the body told a British court this week that asylum seekers sent to the East African country could be moved on to states where they risked torture or death.

The British plan to deport refugees to Rwanda has been mired in legal challenges. But Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government has insisted it will proceed if his Conservative Party wins a July 4 general election.

Lawyers representing the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on Monday said Rwanda’s asylum system was inadequate, as part of a challenge to the British government’s policy to deport asylum seekers there.

The lawyers said the policy risked asylum seekers facing a banned process known as refoulement, building on past evidence that formed an important part of the British Supreme Court’s reasoning when it ruled the British plan unlawful last year.

“UNHCR is lying,” the Rwandan government said in a statement on Wednesday, accusing the agency of making “a series of wholly unserious allegations” against Kigali.

“The organisation seems intent on presenting fabricated allegations to UK courts about Rwanda’s treatment of asylum seekers, while still partnering with us to bring African migrants from Libya to safety in Rwanda.”

Monday’s hearing in the United Kingdom – where the UNHCR made a successful bid to intervene – is the latest in a string of legal challenges dogging the initiative.

It follows an earlier legal challenge brought by the FDA trade union representing civil servants, which was heard on June 6, with the verdict still pending.

The UN agency said it had always raised concerns about the risks refugees were exposed to from “externalisation”, including refoulement.

“UNHCR … finds that the UK-Rwanda Asylum partnership shifts responsibility for making asylum decisions and for protecting refugees,” it said in a statement on Wednesday.

Rwanda’s government said cases raised by the UNHCR lawyers in court had involved both the arrivals of those with legal status in other countries who fell short of its entry requirements, and people leaving voluntarily.

Britain’s ruling Conservatives say the deportation scheme is designed to deter migrants from attempting to cross the English Channel to the UK from northern France. Sunak has said it will proceed if his party wins the July 4 election.

However, opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer has promised to ditch the plan if his party wins the July 4 election.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies