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UK Government to Appeal Northern Ireland Court’s Block on Rwanda Asylum Plan Amid Legal and Political Turmoil

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Court in Northern Ireland rules against law sending asylum seekers to Rwanda, UK government plans to challenge decision

The High Court in Belfast ruled that certain aspects of the UK government's immigration policy could diminish the protections for asylum seekers established by the Good Friday Agreement.

Political journalist @alixculbertson

Monday, May 13, 2024, 5:

Rishi Sunak has announced that the government will challenge a court decision stating that elements of the UK's Illegal Migration Act, which enables the deportation of asylum seekers to Rwanda, ought not to be applied in Northern Ireland.

On Monday morning, the Belfast High Court ruled that certain sections of the act should no longer apply, as they infringe upon the human rights safeguards promised to the area under the post-Brexit agreements.

The Illegal Migration Act grants the government enhanced authority to detain and deport individuals seeking asylum who are considered to have entered the UK unlawfully. A key element of the legislation is the plan to relocate asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Justice Humphreys stated that certain elements of the Illegal Migration Act conflicted with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), to which the UK is still a signatory.

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Prime Minister Rishi Sunak stated that the government intends to challenge the court's decision, emphasizing that this verdict does not affect their strategies to deport unauthorized immigrants to Rwanda in July, nor does it impact the legality of their Safety of Rwanda Act.

After Brexit, the UK and the EU reached an agreement known as the Windsor Framework, which ensures that the rights established under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement are upheld without any reduction, even if they vary from those in other parts of the UK.

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The court determined that multiple aspects of the Illegal Immigration Act substantially diminish the rights of asylum seekers in Northern Ireland as stipulated by the Good Friday Agreement.

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"He noted a significant reduction of rights in all the sectors the applicants emphasized."

He stated: "Consequently, the main argument presented by the applicants prevails. Each of the legislative clauses reviewed violates the guarantees for Rights, Safeguards, and Equality of Opportunity as stipulated in the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement."

The court decided that the specific provisions of the Act being contested must not be applied in Northern Ireland.

This spells trouble for the Prime Minister's Rwanda strategy

Lead political reporter

Alas! The legal disputes arising now were intended to be avoided by Rishi Sunak's Safety of Rwanda Act.

The legislation had just been enacted last month and the government has already faced its first defeat in the judiciary.

The Belfast High Court has issued a decision regarding the earlier legislation aimed at curbing small boat crossings, known as the Illegal Migration Act, which was enacted last year.

Despite Mr. Sunak's evident frustration and his insistence that it alters nothing, with plans to appeal, this development spells trouble for the Prime Minister and could pave the way for additional legal disputes.

Judge Michael Humphreys appeared to indicate that the Rwanda policy was problematic in three distinct areas.

Initially, it conflicts with Tony Blair's Good Friday Agreement, then with Mr. Sunak's Windsor Framework, and also with the European Convention on Human Rights, which is strongly disliked by numerous Conservative MPs.

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The decision is likely to intensify the ongoing dispute between Ireland and the UK, following the introduction of measures by the Dublin government to send back asylum seekers who enter the Republic from Northern Ireland.

The initiatives were unveiled following the enactment of the Safety of Rwanda Bill, which was passed into law in late April. This legislation designates Rwanda as a secure destination for the deportation of asylum seekers.

Helen McEntee, the Irish Minister for Justice, informed a governmental committee that over 80% of the newcomers to Ireland have entered through the border shared with Northern Ireland.

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The legal proceedings on Monday at Belfast's High Court involved the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and a 16-year-old Iranian asylum seeker. This young individual, who had traveled alone to the UK on a small boat from France the previous summer, was part of the case presented.

He currently resides in Northern Ireland, awaiting a decision on his application, and he claims that returning to Iran would result in his imprisonment or death.

Justice Humphreys granted a provisional hold on the enforcement of the ruling, postponing its effect until a further hearing scheduled for late May, where the parties involved will have an opportunity to address the court's decision.

Attorney Sinead Marmion, representing the young client, described the ruling as "extremely important."

She stated that it would stop the Rwanda plan from being implemented in Northern Ireland.

"She mentioned, 'This is a significant irritant for the government, and it has totally disrupted their plans,'" she said.

The prime minister stated, "This ruling does not affect our ongoing strategies to deport unauthorized migrants to Rwanda in July, nor does it impact the legality of our Safety of Rwanda Act."

"I have consistently emphasized that the obligations outlined in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement should be understood in their original context, and should not be extended to include matters such as illegal immigration.

"We will undertake all necessary measures to uphold that stance, including pursuing an appeal."

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Gavin Robinson, head of Northern Ireland's DUP, urged the government to avoid a split in immigration policy among the UK's nations.

He expressed that differing policies among nations could turn Northern Ireland into a hotspot for asylum seekers trying to avoid enforcement measures.

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