Safety Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Act 


The Safety Rwanda Act (Asylum and Immigration Act) (“the Act”) has been described as a violation of the rule of law (Murray 2023). Firstly, certain provisions of the Act have been criticised because they are violations of the UK’s obligation under international law (Murray 2023). For example, the subject matter of the Act is contrary to the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). More particularly,  the Act contravenes the international law principle of non-refoulement, which is enshrined in many sources of international law by which the UK accepts it is bound.

The UK government on its part has justified the approach it has taken by passing the law on grounds that it is  “justified as a matter of parliamentary sovereignty, constitutional propriety, UK law, and the UK’s international obligations” (HM Government 2023). The UK’s government justification implies that it can make laws contrary to the UK’s obligations under international law, whether or not they have human rights implications (Patrick Butchard,  Joanna Dawson, CJ McKinney 2024).

The Act promises to pose serious human rights challenges to African migrants. In 2023, the UK Supreme Court in AAA v Secretary of State for the Home Department held that there were substantial grounds for believing that asylum seekers removed from the UK to Rwanda would be subject to a real risk of “refoulement” from Rwanda to a place where they could be subjected to a grave human right violation.


The UK’s decision to relocate asylum seekers to Rwanda is rooted in the Rwanda policy, known formally as the Migration and Economic Development Partnership of 2022 which was a memorandum of understanding, thus qualifying it as just a political statement and not a binding legislation. The Act came as a result of the fight put up against the Rwanda policy by the UK Supreme Court. The agreement between the two countries is aimed at addressing the issue of illegal immigration and asylum seekers by transferring them to Rwanda,  permanent residency in Rwanda instead of being permitted to return to the UK (Peter Williams 2022).  Boris Johnson, the former prime minister of the UK while introducing the policy, said that “anyone entering the UK illegally – as well as those who have arrived illegally since 1 January 2022 – may now be relocated to Rwanda” (Peter Williams 2022).

Primarily, the Rwanda policy was to serve as a deterrence tool, which aimed at curbing the illegal migration of people from other countries to the UK. The first trip for the removal of a person from the UK to Rwanda under the Rwanda policy was scheduled for the 14th of June 2022. The flight was supposed to remove 7 illegal migrants from the UK. However, the proposed flight was cancelled because of an injunction that was issued by the European Court of Human Rights. The lawfulness of the Rwanda policy was tested in the UK courts. While the UK High Court held it to be lawful, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court found otherwise. The UK Supreme Court held it to be unlawful for the following notable reasons. Firstly, Rwanda is not a “safe country” to which asylum seekers should be removed. Additionally, Rwanda’s poor human rights record and the inadequacies in Rwanda’s asylum system also informed the court decision.

As a consequence of the UK Supreme Court judgement, the government signed the UK-Rwanda Treaty (“the Treaty) on the 5th of December 2023. The Treaty differed from the Rwanda policy in that the policy was merely a political statement and had no binding nature. Additionally, the Treaty contained some protections and guarantees that were not in the memorandum of understanding, which was a mere political statement. The Treaty responded directly to some of the concerns raised by the Supreme Court about the Rwanda policy. For example, the Treaty provides against the relocation of persons from Rwanda. It provided that those removed from the UK to Rwanda, cannot be relocated elsewhere except back to the UK. More specifically, it makes provision to “resettle a portion of Rwanda’s most vulnerable refugees in the UK. The Treaty provided further that the UK and Rwanda agree to take all necessary steps to ensure that the obligations in the treaty are being complied with (Alice Donald, Joe Grogan 2024). According to the UK Home Office, the Treaty responded directly to the conclusions of the Supreme Court on the Rwanda Policy, especially as it relates to the risk of refoulement (Alice Donald, Joe Grogan 2024).

Pursuant to this treaty, the UK Prime Minister introduced the “Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill on the 6th of December 2023. On the eve of the 22nd of April 2024, this law completed its passage through the UK Parliament, and it received royal assent on the 25th of April 2024 (Admas Habteslasie 2024 blog). The major subject matter of this piece of legislation is to declare Rwanda a “safe country” to which asylum seekers can be removed. This categorization of Rwanda as a “safe country” substantially limits the ability for persons to challenge their relocation to Rwanda on grounds that it is unsafe (Mark Elliot 2023).

The Safety Rwanda Act

The Safety Rwanda Act received royal assent on the 25th of April 2024. The Act specifically addresses the concern raised by the UK Supreme Court about Rwanda being an “unsafe county”. According to Clause 1 of the Act, the Republic of Rwanda is a safe country, and as such it is a country to which persons can be removed in compliance with all of the UK’s obligations under international law.

Additionally, clause 2 of the Act mandates decision markers as well as the courts to conclusively treat Rwanda as a safe country. Furthermore, Clause 2(3) provides that no court of tribunal may consider a review or appeal against any removal decision on the basis that Rwanda is not a safe country. However, Clause 4 of the Act does not preclude an individual from showing to the court that Rwanda is not a safe country for them particularly (Amnesty International 2023).  

The Act has been criticised because it disapplies fundamental provisions of the Human Rights Act 1988 (Alice Donald, Joe Grogan 2024). Similarly, the Act has been dubbed a “legal fiction” (Alice Donald, Joe Grogan 2024). This is because it is an attempt by the UK parliament, to use UK law to change the facts on the ground in Rwanda. This is because the Act mandates policymakers, as well as the court, to conclusively treat Rwanda as a safe country to remove persons to, meanwhile, the UK Supreme Court had already in November 2022 determined Rwanda to be an unsafe country due to several systematic defects in its processing asylum claims.

It remains unclear how exactly the Act would serve to deter persons who come into the UK illegally from entering the country, especially African migrants. The high degree of uncertainty surrounding the idea behind the whole policy was contained in the letter written by Matthew Rycroft the Home Office’s Permanent Secretary, to Rt Hon Priti Patel Home Secretary where he stated that “I do not believe sufficient evidence can be obtained to demonstrate that the policy will have a deterrent effect significant enough to make the policy value for money. This does not mean that the MEDP cannot have the appropriate deterrent effect; just that there is not sufficient evidence for me to conclude that it will.” (Mathew Rycroft 2022).

Situation Address: Impact on African Migrants

Statistics have shown that asylum seekers from sub-Saharan Africa alone make up a fifth of the entire illegal migrant population in Europe (Peter Walsh, Madeleine Sumption 2020). It implies that asylum seekers from African countries are going to be on the receiving end of the Safety Rwanda Act, and the objectives contained in the UK-Rwanda Treaty.

This would have various impacts on African migrants. For example, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has expressed dissatisfaction with this particular law. According to Volker Türk, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, “By shifting responsibility for refugees, reducing the UK’s courts’ ability to scrutinise removal decisions, restricting access to legal remedies in the UK and limiting the scope of domestic and international human rights protections for a specific group of people, this new legislation seriously hinders the rule of law in the UK and sets a perilous precedent globally.” (UNHCR, 2024).  

One of the major problems with this legislation is its mandatory description of Rwanda as a “safe country”, mandating policymakers and the court to consider it as such, regardless of whether or not it is in fact a safe country. The UK’s Supreme Court whilst rejecting the Rwanda policy of 2022, stressed that Rwanda was not a safe country for the following reasons, (1) the country’s poor human rights record; (2) the presence of serious and systematic defects in its asylum processing; and (3) that under a similar agreement with Israel, Rwanda removed asylum seekers to countries of origin, thus violating the principle of non-refoulement ( Peter Williams 2022).

The UK Supreme Court found that Rawand had a poor human rights record, due to its findings on instigated killings of people critical of its government. For example, the Human Rights Watch Report of 2022 revealed that “The ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) stifles dissenting and critical voices and  targets those perceived as a threat to the government and their family members.”’ ( Human Rights Watch 2022). Similarly, it was reported that several high-profile critics and commentators using social media or YouTube to express themselves, went missing, were arrested or threatened, coupled with arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, and torture of persons including street children in official and unofficial detention facilities (Human Rights Watch 2022).

It was reported by Human Rights Watch that the government exerted pressure on Rwandan refugee and diaspora communities, especially refugees who are known critics of the government and have been threatened and harassed. The case of Cassien Ntamuhanga, a Rwandan asylum seeker and a founder of an opposition movement, who was taken into custody by Mozambican police, was convicted in Rwanda after a highly politicized trial (Human Rights Watch 2022). Additionally, the death of John Williams Ntwali, an investigative journalist who reported on human rights-related issues and who died in suspicious circumstances raises concern about the right to freedom of expression in Rwanda (Amnesty International 2023).

The situation in Rwanda is just as the UK Supreme Court stated it to be. In practice, it is not a safe country and the implication for African migrants who are going to be removed from the UK to Rwanda is that there is the likelihood of human rights abuses. The story of Ntamuhanga is one of many situations for asylum seekers in Rwanda. The human rights challenges that flow from the Safety Rwanda Act raise significant issues for African migrants who leave their country of origin due to some of these human rights challenges, only to be returned to Rwanda where they may likely face the same fate.  


The issues raised by the UK Supreme Court whilst describing the whole idea behind the Rwanda policy as unlawful and contrary to the rule of law, have not practically been addressed by the Safety Rwanda Act. The whole concept of returning asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda raises very fundamental human rights concerns being that, practically speaking, Rwanda is not a safe country to return asylum seekers to. It is important that steps taken to address the issue of irregular flow of asylum seekers to a country, take into consideration international cooperation and respect for international human rights law. It is uncertain what the success rate of the Act would be in terms of serving as a deterrence. Nonetheless, what is certain is that there is a high likelihood of human rights violations flowing from the law.


Amnesty International. (2023) Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, Bill 38 (as introduced).[Online] Available from : 

Murray Hunt. (2023) Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill: A Preliminary Rule of Law Analysis for House of Commons Second Reading. [Online] Available from:

Patrick Butchard et al, (2023)  Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill: legal commentary. [Online] Available from:

Peter Walsh. (2024) The UK’s policy to send asylum seekers to Rwanda. [Online] Available from: 

Mathew R. (2022) Matthew Rycroft to Rt Hon Priti Patel, 13 April [Letter] from: 

Peter William Walsh, Madeleine Sumption.  (2020) ‘Recent estimates of the UK’s irregular migrant population’.[Online] Available from: 

UNHCR. (2024) UK-Rwanda asylum law: UN leaders warn of harmful consequences.[Online] Available from:,now%20or%20in%20the%20future.

Human Rights Watch. (2022) Rwanda Events of 2021. [Online] Available from: 

Amnesty International. (2023)  Rwanda 2023. [Online] Available from: 

Alice Donald, Joelle Grogan. (2024)  What are the Rwanda Treaty and the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill? [Online] Available from:

Mark Elliott. (2023) Could the Supreme Court reject the Rwanda Bill as unconstitutional? [Online] Available from: 

Writer: Promise Okezie
Editor: Amaka Obioji
Image: RJ Travel

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