In quite a significant move, the upper house of the United Kingdom’s parliament has voted on the delay of the controversial plan of Rishi Sunak to deport certain ayslum seekers to Rwanda. Although the Prime Minister has urged the House of Lords to support his plan, the vote was cast in favour of a delay.
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The upper house decided by a vote of 214 to 171 to postpone ratifying a related treaty that London signed with Kigali until the government can show that sending asylum seekers to Rwanda is a safe option.
Although the chamber does not hold the power to indefinitely block the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, the legislation could be delayed for up to a year.
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The action was taken after the bill was narrowly approved by the more powerful House of Commons recently, following threats from some Conservative MPs to vote against the government on the grounds that the legislation was not strong enough to withstand legal challenges.
This year’s anticipated general election, which the center-left Labour Party is heavily favoured to win, has made Sunak’s controversial immigration plan a cornerstone of his campaign to retake power.
Last year, the UK Supreme Court ruled that there is no guarantee of the safety of deported asylum seekers in Rwanda. Following this ruling, the Prime Minister introduced the legislation.
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The bill would make it more difficult for the courts to challenge the Rwanda policy by permitting the government to suspend certain provisions of human rights law and also requiring a majority vote in the House of Commons that the African country is safe for refugee claimants.
The Rwanda plan, announced in 2022 by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, was to deny the people arriving via “irregular means” a chance to apply for asylum in the UK.
A flight bound to Rwanda from the UK was halted by court order in June of that year with less than one day’s notice after a last-minute intervention by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which ruled that one of the asylum seekers on board was at “real risk of irreversible harm” in the East African country.
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