BoJo's Rwanda Migrant Scheme Not Remedy for Channel Crossings & Trafficking, UK Scholars Say
© AP Photo / Manish SwarupBritish Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrives to address a press conference prior to his departure, in New Delhi, Friday, April 22, 2022
© AP Photo / Manish Swarup
The UK government plans to appeal against the European Court of Human Rights' ruling that grounded the first controversial deportation flight. It is, however, "highly confident" the next plane will take off.
The first flight taking asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda was cancelled on 14 June due to the intervention of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), an international court of the Council of Europe.
According to Sky News, the ECHR granted an urgent interim measure blocking the removal of one Iraqi detainee, which allowed legal teams for the other six migrants to make successful last-minute applications.
A day earlier, judges in England’s Court of Appeal had ruled that the asylum seekers could go to Rwanda, defying a legal challenge by campaigners who denounced the UK government's deportations plan as "inhumane."
"One of the rights under the ECHR that has been challenged is article 6, [the] right to fair trial," says Dr David Lowe, a senior research fellow at Leeds Beckett University’s Law School researching terrorism & security and human rights.
"In essence, the asylum seekers should have been permitted to make their judicial review request through the UK courts right up to the Supreme Court, which was not done. To be compatible with article 6, this should have been completed before any asylum seekers were being deported. Another right that may be considered is article 8, [the] right to privacy and family life, with the stress being on family life,” he continued.
While British government officials are rushing to kick off migrant’s deportations, the security expert argues that, "Firstly, the judicial process will have to have been exhausted", and secondly that the conditions that deported asylum seekers will endure upon arrival in Rwanda should be taken into account. It is expected that the High Court will hold a judicial review in July to decide on the legality of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson's policy.
"If the UK government can show that this policy is compatible with the ECHR both in selection for deportation and the conditions they will have in Rwanda [this] will be important for them [the UK government] to be successful in carrying out the policy of deportation," says Lowe.
BoJo's Deportations Plan Raises Questions
In the wake of the ECHR's last-minute ruling, the British premier did not conceal his disappointment: "The legal world is very good at picking up ways of trying to stop the government from upholding what we think is a sensible law," BoJo said on Tuesday.
According to the PM, the Rwanda deportation plan would dissuade asylum seekers from coming to the UK and upend schemes carried out by traffickers and smugglers. Over 3,000 illegal migrants crossed the English Channel and arrived in the UK in March 2022 with a total of 4,850 having made crossings so far this year.
However, BoJo's initiative appears to be flawed, argued Lowe: "If the government is right, then why in the UK we have laws against other criminal activity including other forms of organised crime and terrorist activity, but it doesn’t stop them [from happening]," he explained.
The cost of deportation has also raised eyebrows, the security expert pointed out. According to figures obtained by Sky News, deportation flights cost the government an average of £175,000 ($211,041) each in 2021. All in all, the UK government spent a total of £11,370,678 ($13,712,162) on 65 deportation flights, with most of the asylum seekers returning to European countries and just four going to Africa. Meanwhile, the cancelled flight to Rwanda - with just seven migrants on board - allegedly would have cost British taxpayers a staggering £500,000 ($603,471).
"I think that budget could be spent more wisely and effectively by building purpose built detention centres to allow agencies like the Border Agency to carry out the administration requirement more efficiently and effectively," said Lowe. "Also, the UK government should continue to work with and assist their French counterparts, especially in Calais, on dealing with those wishing to risk their lives illegally crossing the busiest shipping lane in the world, the English Channel. This is not an issue on which to play politics or to promote populist policies."
While for some, deportation flights may dissuade migrants, for others the strategy is flawed. As Peter Williams, a senior lecturer with the Liverpool Centre for Advanced Policing Studies at Liverpool John Moores University, explained: "People have travelled thousands of miles [to reach the UK], so why be deterred now”.
It will also be ineffective combatting trafficking gangs, he explained. "The big gap the UK has is that we are now out of Europol and no longer have access to their intelligence (except in some limited situations) due to Brexit," Williams says. "Good intelligence and countries working together in a policing role is the key to defeating human trafficking gangs."
Could the UK Pull Out of the ECHR?
Meanwhile, BoJo refused to rule out Britain's possible withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights on Tuesday following the ruling. The next day, however, Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey stated that she was "not aware of any decisions or hints even about that".
A UK withdrawal would be a mistake, argued Williams. "The UK was the first signature to ratify the Treaty in 1951 and therefore the ECHR has nothing to do with the EU, only the Council of Europe (…) The overall Human Rights Declaration containing 30 articles was signed in New York by the United Nations in 1948, as a result of the human rights abuses of WW2. The ECHR was formulated in 1951 in order to prevent abuses by governments etc., it would be a disaster for the UK government if they withdrew as it flies in the face of everything they claim to stand for."
As Boris Johnson likes to compare himself on Sir Winston Churchill, he should bear in mind that Churchill was instrumental in bringing about the formation of the Council of Europe in the late 1940’s and the introduction of the ECHR, echoed Lowe.
"It was predominantly British lawyers that drafted the ECHR , so the claim that they are ‘foreign European rights’ is not quite true, they are British based rights," he emphasised.