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UK: House of Commons Rwanda vote is a 'shocking spectacle'

Commons overturns all of Lords’ amendments to controversial Safety of Rwanda bill

‘This shocking spectacle of forcing - or even bribing - people onto planes must end now’ - Sacha Deshmukh

In response to the House of Commons voting to overturn all amendments introduced by the House of Lords to the Government’s controversial Safety of Rwanda bill, Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s Chief Executive, said:

“Today’s vote shows that the rights of refugees in this country are crumbling before our eyes.

“Not only is the Rwanda scheme a deeply immoral way to treat people fleeing conflict and persecution, it is also unlawful and risks undermining global respect for international law.

“Rather than this brazen attempt to palm off the UK’s international obligations onto another country, the UK should be offering proper protection to people fleeing conflict and persecution from places like Afghanistan, Iran, Syria and Eritrea.

“The asylum system is in freefall, with a refusal to process cases and thousands of people stuck in limbo with devastating consequences.

“Instead of putting an end to the Government’s policy disaster, the Bill increases the harms being done by tearing up the ability of courts to decide on the facts or rule that clear breaches of human rights are unlawful. These are the most basic aspects of rights protection, and this is a deeply alarming development for the UK.

“Once again - and in the strongest terms - we’re calling on the Government to scrap the deeply authoritarian Rwanda bill in its entirety. This shocking spectacle of forcing - or even bribing - people onto planes must end now.”

Root problem with the asylum system

Over the last three years, the UK authorities have deliberately undermined the asylum system by causing a very substantial backlog of asylum claims to build up. Rather than change the policy that has caused this, the Government has resorted to increasingly harmful measures to avoid facing up to the damage it is doing. Those measures include confining people on barges or isolating them in filthy and decrepit former barracks and threatening them with removal to Rwanda. Ministers have also made a string of statements which have denigrated and vilified refugees.

Amnesty’s recent briefing - How a bad policy wrecked the UK asylum system - provides a detailed analysis of the Government’s asylum policy, which has been an outright refusal to process the asylum claims of tens of thousands of people seeking asylum. The briefing shows how the consequences of the policy have spiralled as ministers repeatedly double-down on this policy.

‘Switching off’ human rights protections

The Safety of the Rwanda bill is based on a deeply authoritarian notion - one that threatens the rule of law in this country that legal restraints to protect people’s basic rights are illegitimate obstacles to government policy.

The Bill attacks the fundamental role of the courts to look at evidence, decide on the facts of a case and apply the law accordingly. The Bill is forcing courts to treat Rwanda as a “safe country” and specifically prevents them from considering any evidence to the contrary. Legislating in this way is a very serious threat to the protection of human rights, as all human rights protections rely on independent determinations of the facts rather than having these predetermined by an entity that may well be committing the human rights violations.

The Bill goes on to “disapply” (in effect "switch off") almost all the parts of the Human Rights Act that serve to protect people’s fundamental rights, while also imposing significant obstacles on courts’ wider powers to intervene. This is the latest - and most extreme - example of a recent pattern in which the Government has effectively ended the universal protection of human rights in this country by switching off those protections for people who it thinks it can gain political capital from attacking.

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