Does the government’s Rwanda policy only impact ‘failed asylum seekers’?

23 November 2023
What was claimed

The government’s plan was to put failed asylum seekers on a plane to Rwanda.

Our verdict

This depends on how you interpret the word “failed”. All asylum seekers that would be sent to Rwanda, were the government’s plans to proceed, would be deemed ineligible for asylum in the UK because under new laws their cases wouldn’t be considered at all, not because they had been considered in the UK and rejected.

What was claimed

Italy, Germany and Austria are all exploring models similar to the UK’s partnership with Rwanda.

Our verdict

Of these countries only Italy has announced an agreement to relocate asylum seekers in a different country, and it has significant differences to the UK’s Rwanda policy. Austria and Germany have both said they would explore the possibility of sending asylum seekers to third countries, but neither appears to have agreed any specific proposals.

On Wednesday, 15 November, the UK’s Supreme Court unanimously upheld a ruling that the government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda was unlawful.

In the wake of that decision we’ve seen a number of claims about the government’s policy, including that it would involve sending “failed asylum seekers” to Rwanda, and that other European countries are looking into similar plans.

The claims would benefit from further explanation. The Rwanda plan would involve removing asylum seekers whose claims have not been considered by the UK, not only those whose claims were considered and rejected, and while other European countries have said they will explore the possibility of sending asylum seekers to third-countries while their claims are processed, these plans have significant differences to the UK’s.

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Who would be sent to Rwanda?

Speaking immediately after the announcement of the Supreme Court’s decision, Sky News’s political editor Beth Rigby described the policy as a plan to “put failed asylum seekers on planes to Rwanda”.

Under laws passed by the government last year, most asylum seekers who claim asylum in the UK having previously passed through a different safe third country (European countries set out in law as safe countries) can have their claims deemed inadmissible, meaning they will not have their application considered and have no right to appeal.

Guidance published by the Home Office states: “An asylum claimant may be eligible for removal to Rwanda if their claim is inadmissible … and (a) that claimant’s journey to the UK can be described as having been dangerous and (b) was made on or after 1 January 2022.”

Asylum seekers sent to Rwanda would then have their claims processed by Rwanda, with those whose claims are approved granted protection in Rwanda.

Under the initial agreement, claimants sent to Rwanda whose claims are ultimately rejected would either be removed to a country in which they have a right to reside, or given another form of legal immigration status in Rwanda, though after the Supreme Court’s ruling home secretary James Cleverly said the agreement would be changed to “make clear that those sent there cannot be sent to another country than the UK.”

So while it is the case that all asylum seekers that would be sent to Rwanda, were the government’s plans to proceed, would be deemed ineligible for asylum in the UK, that’s because their cases wouldn’t be considered at all, not because they would be considered in the UK and rejected—as “failed asylum seekers” might imply. 

This is a necessary distinction to make as it’s important to be clear that the policy does not differentiate between asylum seekers who might have a reasonable case to be granted asylum, and those who might not.

It’s worth noting that asylum seekers being considered for removal may raise a legal objection based on the European Convention on Human Rights—as was the case with a number of cases relating to people the UK government had previously attempted to send to Rwanda.

We’ve written a number of fact checks previously about the UK’s Rwanda policy, including claims that other European countries had already implemented such schemes, and that those sent to Rwanda could later return to the UK if their refugee status is accepted.

Are other countries considering similar plans?

After the Supreme Court decision, Mr Cleverly was quoted in news reports as saying: “Across Europe, illegal migration is increasing and governments are following our lead: Italy, Germany and Austria are all exploring models similar to our partnership with Rwanda.”

Conservative MP Neil O’Brien has also previously made a similar claim on X (formerly Twitter), saying “half of Europe now seems to be looking at similar plans to the UK”. He told Full Fact that he had said other countries were looking at similar plans, and did not say that they were the same as the UK’s plan, or that they had all reached agreements.

It is true that earlier this month it was announced that two camps would be built in Albania to house migrants rescued at sea by Italian boats while Italy processed their asylum claims.

However, crucially, these asylum seekers would still have their claims processed by Italy, and would be transferred back to Italy were their claim to be approved (Italian authorities would also be responsible for relocating asylum seekers sent to Albania whose cases are rejected). This isn’t the case with the UK’s Rwanda policy.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has said that his government will “examine whether the protection status of refugees can also be determined in transit or third countries in the future, in compliance with the Geneva Convention on Refugees and the European Convention on Human Rights”, though we are not aware that any specific plans have been confirmed.

On 7 November the UK and Austria signed an agreement to, among other things, explore “the principle of safe third country concepts to enhance regional migration management,” though again, Austria does not appear to have committed to any specific proposals to send asylum seekers to a third country.

We’ve contacted the Austrian and German interior ministries to ask if there have been any further updates. We’ve also contacted Mr Cleverly for comment.

Image courtesy of Jose Isai Ramos Figueroa

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