UK Rwanda migration policy should not apply to Northern Ireland, court rules

The Belfast High Court found that some of the provision in the UK’s Rwanda migration law should be ‘disapplied‘ in Northern Ireland.

A front-facing photograph of Stormont Parliament in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Image: Shutterstock

On Monday, May 13, the High Court in Belfast ruled that certain provisions of the UK’s Illegal Migration Act 2023, including the ability to divert asylum seekers to Rwanda, should not apply to Northern Ireland. 

Published in March 2023, the Illegal Migration Act changes the law so that people who arrive in the UK illegally will instead be detained and then removed, either to their home country or a safe third country, such as Rwanda. The policy has been widely criticised by activists and LGBTQ+ groups for disregarding human rights and putting lives at risk.

Following the implementation of the Illegal Migration Act throughout the UK, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) joined forces with a 16-year-old unaccompanied Iranian asylum seeker who arrived in the UK by boat to bring applications challenging the law in Northern Ireland. 

Justice Humphreys at the Belfast High Court ruled on Monday that certain provisions of the Act should be “disapplied” in Northern Ireland, as they undermine human rights protections guaranteed in the region under post-Brexit arrangements such as the Windsor Framework – a document that stipulates that there can be no diminution of the rights provisions contained within the Good Friday agreement.

Humphreys similarly ruled that certain provisions of the Illegal Migration Act were incompatible with the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR). 

Humphreys reported that he found that the UK Rwanda law contained several elements that could cause a “significant” reduction of rights granted to asylum seekers in Northern Ireland as a result of the Good Friday agreement. 

“I have found that there is a relevant diminution of right in each of the areas relied upon by the applicants,” reported Humphreys.

“The applicants’ primary submission therefore succeeds. Each of the statutory provisions under consideration infringes the protection afforded to RSE (Rights, Safeguards and Equality of Opportunity) in the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement”.

Despite Humphrey’s ruling, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has reported that the UK government will appeal against the ruling. According to Sunak, Humphreys’ ruling “changes nothing about our operational plans to send illegal migrants to Rwanda this July or the lawfulness of our Safety of Rwanda Act”. 

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