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Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner condemns UK’s Rwanda bill

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Shortly after Rishi Sunak’s bill finally passed through parliament, five people were reported to have died crossing the English Channel in a small boat.


The Council of Europe’s top human rights official has expressed “serious concerns” over the UK government’s Rwanda deportation scheme, saying it raises “major issues about the human rights of asylum seekers and the rule of law more generally.”

Human Rights Commissioner Michael O’Flaherty pointed out that Rishi Sunak’s government is planning to remove people to Rwanda without prior assessment of their asylum claims.

“The Bill prevents individuals faced with removal to Rwanda from accessing remedies for potential violations of the absolute prohibition of refoulement,” wrote O’Flaherty, “while it also significantly excludes the ability of UK courts to fully and independently scrutinise the issues brought before them.”

The legislation, he concluded, marks a major new step in “an ongoing trend towards externalisation of asylum and migration policy in Europe” – a trend he described as “a matter of concern for the global system of protection of the rights of refugees”.

The UK is a member of the Council of Europe, which promotes democracy and human rights across the continent. 

Apart from the Council of Europe, Sunak’s Rwanda bill has attracted criticism from the United Nations refugee agency, as well as several international NGOs.

The British branch of Doctors Without Borders called the bill “cruel and profoundly dangerous” saying they opposed it on medical, ethical and humanitarian grounds. 

Hours after the bill passed, French media reported that five people were reported to have died whilst crossing the English Channel.   

Sunak and his party argue that the bill will prevent such deaths by discouraging people from crossing the English Channel via illicit and dangerous means, often facilitated by people-smugglers who pay little if any attention to safety.

Widespread concern

Sunak has put the Rwanda policy at the centre of his governing agenda, with “stop the boats” frequently used as a slogan at government press conferences.

However, the legislation only passed through parliament just after midnight last night following a stand-off between the House of Commons and the House of Lords, the latter of which saw a bipartisan effort to amend or halt the legislation altogether.

While the law is now headed for royal assent and flights supposedly planned to take off in the next 10 to 12 weeks, the legislation is still expected to face legal challenges. Sunak has promised to fight back against any such action. 

According to figures from the British government, an estimated 30,000 people without formal immigration status crossed the British Channel via small boats in 2023.

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