The UK government wanted to send some asylum seekers to Rwanda, but the policy has been ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court.
The Court said there was a risk that any asylum seeker sent there could be returned to their home country, which would breach UK and international human rights laws.
It also cited Rwanda’s poor human rights record, and its past treatment of refugees as a factor in its decision.
What was the Rwanda asylum plan?
The five-year trial – announced in April 2022 – would have seen some asylum seekers sent to Rwanda to claim asylum there.
Under the plan, they might have been granted refugee status to stay in Rwanda. If not, they could have applied to settle there on other grounds, or sought asylum in another “safe third country”.
No asylum seeker has actually been sent to Rwanda. The first flight was scheduled to go in June 2022, but was cancelled after legal challenges.
The government said the policy would deter people arriving in the UK through “illegal, dangerous or unnecessary methods”, such as on small boats which cross the English Channel.
More than 45,700 people used this route to come to the UK in 2022, the highest figure since records began.
As of 13 November, the number of small boat crossings in 2023 was a third lower than at the same point the year before, however it is not possible to say if the drop is the result of government migration policies.
In October, shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock said the weather had been partly responsible for the fall in numbers, claiming that 2023 was “the wettest summer since 1912”.
Is Rwanda safe and is the scheme legal?
The UK Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the Rwanda scheme is unlawful.
In their ruling, the five top justices said the Court of Appeal had been right to conclude in June that there had not been a proper assessment of whether Rwanda was a safe country for asylum seekers.
Lord Reed, the court’s president, said there was strong evidence to believe that genuine refugees sent to the country could be at risk of being returned to their home countries – where they could face persecution.
This breaches part of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) which prohibits torture and inhuman treatment. The UK is a signatory to the ECHR.
The Supreme Court judges also said that Rwanda has a poor human rights record. The Court heard evidence about concerns over political freedoms and the safety of asylum seekers in the country.
How many people could have been sent to Rwanda?
It was not clear exactly how many asylum seekers could have been sent to Rwanda.
The government previously said “anyone entering the UK illegally” after 1 January 2022 could be sent, with no limit on numbers.
Under the deal, Rwanda could also have asked the UK to take in some of its most vulnerable refugees.
How much would the plan have cost?
So far the UK has paid the Rwandan government £140m, but it did not provide an overall cost for the scheme.
An economic-impact assessment prepared for the government’s Illegal Migration Bill estimated that removing each individual to a third country, such as Rwanda, would cost £63,000 more than keeping them in the UK.
That figure is the difference between the total cost of removing an individual – estimated to be £169,000 – and the £106,000 spent on housing support if they remain in the UK.
The £169,000 total includes a payment to the third country of around £105,000 per person, as well as £22,000 for flights.
The Home Office said no cost would be incurred if the policy deterred an individual from entering the UK illegally.
But it said acknowledged it was “uncertain” how many people would be deterred because the policy was “novel and untested”.
The UK’s asylum system costs £3bn a year. About £8m a day is spent on hotel accommodation for refugees and asylum seekers.
Critics say the daily cost is so high because of the time taken to decide on applications, and a ban on asylum seekers working while waiting for confirmation of their status.