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Comment from the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford about the Supreme Court ruling on the UK Government’s Rwanda policy

15 Nov 2023

Dr Peter Walsh, Senior Researcher at the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said: 

“The Supreme Court decision has big policy implications, but the biggest ones are not about whether planes leave for Rwanda or not. The Rwanda policy was never going to be a silver bullet that would completely end channel crossings. It may well have had some deterrent effect, but there was always a good chance the deterrent effect would have been small. The government was not very transparent about what Rwanda’s capacity to receive asylum seekers actually was, and if—as many expected—Rwanda dealt with a small fraction of the people crossing in small boats, the deterrent effect may not have been tremendous anyway. 

“Perhaps the biggest impact of the Supreme Court decision is that the government may decide to delay fully implementing its recent asylum legislation – the Illegal Migration Act – under which migrants and refugees who enter illegally and claim asylum would no longer be able to get a decision on their claim.  That policy really relies on there being safe third countries – not just Rwanda – to send people who have claimed asylum but haven’t had a decision to determine whether they’re refugee. However, Rwanda was the government’s only option – all of the government’s eggs were, essentially, in that basket – which the Supreme Court has crushed. The Illegal Migration Act, if implemented, would have far-reaching consequences for the UK’s asylum system and the people who go through it.  

“Does the Rwanda decision stop the government from being able to achieve Sunak’s promise to stop channel crossings? Not necessarily, because it was always unlikely that the government could have eliminated channel crossings entirely, even if the Rwanda policy went ahead. This is not, ultimately, because of failures of enforcement policy, but because it is a Sisyphean task and profoundly difficult to achieve – even if the boats stop, evidence suggests that other routes will open up. Many policies can have some impact at the margins, and all have their limits. Ultimately, there’s no single policy that can reduce channel crossings on its own, and the Rwanda deal was no exception to this.” 

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