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Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda asylum bill is “fundamentally incompatible” with the UK’s human rights obligations, a cross-party parliamentary committee has warned, as the legislation is set to undergo scrutiny in the House of Lords.
In a report that underscored the high stakes of the prime minister’s bid to remove asylum seekers to Rwanda before the next general election, the Joint Committee on Human Rights said the bill flouted the principle of the universality of human rights and jeopardised the UK’s reputation for respecting the rule of law.
“Hostility to human rights is at its heart and no amendments can salvage it,” said Joanna Cherry, the Scottish National party chair of the committee, noting that among other safeguards the legislation would remove asylum seekers’ fundamental right to access a court.
The report, released on Monday, found the bill eroded protection of human rights under domestic law, contravened the European Convention on Human Rights and fell short of the UK’s commitments under international treaties.
“This isn’t just about the rights and wrongs of the Rwanda policy itself,” Cherry said. “By taking this approach, the bill risks untold damage to the UK’s reputation as a proponent of human rights internationally.”
The Rwanda asylum bill was introduced late last year after the Supreme Court ruled the government’s plan to send asylum seekers to the African country was unlawful.
The court judged there was a risk that people removed to Kigali could be sent on to their countries of origin and be persecuted in contravention of international and domestic law.
In a bid to save the Kigali deal, Sunak issued “emergency” legislation that deemed Rwanda to be a safe country in law, paving the way for migrants to be sent to there.
But the committee argued that it should be for the courts, not parliament, to assess whether a new treaty signed with Kigali could “resolve the realities on the ground that led the Supreme Court to conclude that Rwanda was not safe”.
It also noted the UN Refugee Agency, whose evidence was given significant weight by the Supreme Court, said it had not observed changes in Rwanda’s asylum processes that would overcome its original concerns.
After passing through the House of Commons easily before Christmas, despite threats from the left and right of the Tory party, the bill will from Monday begin days of line-by-line scrutiny in the Lords.
The Home Office said the bill, and treaty alongside it, provided the “best way of getting flights off to Rwanda as soon as possible.” Responding to the JCHR report it said: “Rwanda is clearly a safe country that cares deeply about supporting refugees.”
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