U.K.’s Controversial Migrant Deportation Law Faces Supreme Court Scrutiny

FILE - Britain's Home Secretary Suella Braverman pauses, during a press conference in the capital Kigali, Rwanda Saturday, March 18, 2023. A British court on Thursday, June 29, 2023 has ruled that a government plan to send asylum-seekers to Rwanda in an attempt to deter migrants from making risky journeys across the English Channel is unlawful. Court of Appeal judges said Rwanda could not be considered a “safe third country” where migrants could be sent. (AP Photo, File)

The U.K. Supreme Court is gearing up to assess the legality of the controversial Illegal Migration Act, a policy aimed at deporting migrants arriving illegally in the U.K. not to their countries of origin, but to Rwanda.

A Symbolic Deportation Flight

In a chilling incident on June 14, 2022, the British government attempted to deport seven migrant men, hailing from countries such as Iran, Iraq, Vietnam, and Albania, to Rwanda. They were cuffed, their phones seized, and their legs shackled. As one of the asylum seekers, identified as N.A., an Iranian Kurd, recalls, “My legs were trembling. I thought I’d never see my family again.”

This flight was halted due to a temporary ban issued by the European Court of Human Rights, costing British taxpayers up to $600,000. “They treated us like criminals and murderers,” N.A. said, highlighting the traumatic ordeal.

People believed to be migrants walk in Dungeness, a headland on the coast of England, on Aug. 16.Toby Melville/Reuters

Policies Challenged on All Fronts

While the Conservative-led government under Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who’s known for his “Stop the Boats” slogan, promotes the policy as a means to deter illegal crossings, opposition from various quarters remains strong.

Theresa May, former British Prime Minister, has voiced her concerns, especially about the potential benefits to traffickers. She fears the new legislation may discourage victims of modern slavery and human trafficking from coming forward, leading to reduced prosecution of traffickers. “My concern is that traffickers … could use [the threat of deportation in Britain’s new legislation] to persuade their victims… not to try to seek help,” May expressed.

Moreover, rights groups and the United Nations have criticized the law for undermining international humanitarian standards, essentially denying individuals their right to seek asylum.

Asylum-seekers aboard a U.K. Border Force boat arrive at docks in Dover, England, after being rescued in the English Channel while crossing it in January. Andrew Aitchison/In Pictures via Getty Images

Britain’s Struggle with Migration

A surge in boat migrations across the English Channel has further fuelled the debate on immigration. Fisherman Matt Coker, witnessing this phenomenon firsthand, says, “It gets busier every year. I’ve been on the sea 25, maybe 30 years — and I’ve seen nothing like it all my life.”

Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford published a poll indicating a possible increase in opposition to immigration since 2022, with 52% of respondents believing immigration numbers should be reduced.

U.K.'s Controversial Migrant Deportation Law Faces Supreme Court Scrutiny
Former British prime minister Theresa May signs her new book, The Abuse of Power: Confronting Injustice in Public Life, at the Conservative Party’s annual conference in Manchester on Oct. 3. (Hannah McKay/Reuters)

Echoes of Past Mistakes

Interestingly, Theresa May’s tenure as home secretary was marked by her introduction of policies aimed at creating a “hostile environment” for illegal immigrants. The Windrush scandal, resulting from these policies, saw legal U.K. residents wrongly classified as illegal immigrants, leading to denied access to essential services and even deportations. May has since expressed regret over the terminology and emphasized the importance of implementing recommendations from the Windrush Lessons Learned review.

(FILES) British Home Secretary Priti Patel (L), and Rwandan Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Vincent Biruta, sign a migration and economic partnership agreement at Kigali Convention Center, Kigali, Rwanda on April 14, 2022. The Court of Appeal on June 29, 2023 ruled that the UK government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda was unlawful as the African nation could not be considered a safe third country. Three judges said that “unless deficiencies” in Rwanda’s asylum system were corrected, “removal of asylum seekers to Rwanda will be unlawful.” (Photo by Simon WOHLFAHRT / AFP)

A Fractured Future?

As Britain prepares for the Supreme Court’s decision on the legality of the Rwanda deportation policy, migrants like N.A. hang in balance, hoping for a compassionate resolution. Legal experts, activists, and politicians will watch closely, anticipating the ruling’s potential implications on future British immigration policy.

While the U.K.’s stance on migration remains divisive, the nation’s approach to refugees, asylum, and human rights is under global scrutiny. The coming months are likely to shape the course of Britain’s relationship with migrants for years to come.