Refugee Convention – is Britain violating international law? – News


Great Britain wants to transfer asylum seekers to Rwanda despite criticism. The most important questions and answers about the current policy of the Boris Johnson government.

Great Britain wants to transfer asylum seekers to Rwanda despite criticism. International law expert Holger Hestermeier provides answers to the most important questions about the current policies of the Boris Johnson government.

Holger Hestermeier

international law expert

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Professor of International and European Union Law, Director of the Center for International Governance and Conflict Resolution

SRF News: Is the British government ignoring international law?

Holger Hestermeier: The government is willing to take populist positions that are difficult to justify under international law and which, for the majority of international law experts, violate international law. With the Northern Ireland Protocol, it can be argued that everyone in the government should be aware of this. It is not entirely clear to what extent the government is also dealing with the case of the transfer of refugees to Rwanda.

European court bans deportation to Rwanda

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People in Rwanda will be accommodated in hotels like this.

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Following a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), Britain’s controversial deportation flights to Rwanda for asylum seekers may not be carried out. On Tuesday evening, the court ordered that one of the victims not be flown. Instead, a period of three weeks must first have elapsed after legal proceedings in Great Britain have ended. Hours earlier, the High Court, Britain’s last court, had given the green light to the internationally controversial project. It was not clear at first whether the first flight planned for the evening would continue.

What is the problem of deporting refugees to Rwanda?

It is not an agreement whereby refugees are flown to Rwanda to assist them while their asylum application is being processed in the UK. Instead, their asylum application will be made in and for Rwanda after their transfer and, if successful, they will remain in Rwanda. Legal problems arise in at least three respects, first with the general right to asylum and the principle that refugees should not be penalized for illegal entry, and secondly with the fact that Great Britain is of course responsible for these refugees, even if they did. They are returned to countries where they are at risk (the so-called non-refoulement).

Third, there are problems with the bilateral transfer agreement. Rwanda has made great efforts to create its own refugee system, but it still falls short in many criteria, at least that’s what UNHCR says, and to some extent – according to UNHCR in turn, Great Britain is on the verge of breaking the law International here, because such agreements are subject to certain conditions that are not fulfilled here.

Is the government breaching the Brexit deal?

With regard to the Northern Ireland Protocol, Johnson’s government has agreed to a solution with the EU that is explicitly different from the one reached with the EU under Theresa May. The amendment to the draft agreement, which specifically addressed the issue of Northern Ireland, was subsequently sold as a victory. This same solution is now presented as unacceptable. The government has introduced a bill that expressly undermines the solution envisaged in the Northern Ireland Protocol.

There is no doubt that the bill violates the European Union agreement.

We must say that we are at the beginning of this process, so far it is a bill, and it is unclear whether it will pass, but if it is passed, there is no doubt that it will violate the agreement with the European Union

How can the EU defend itself against breach of contract?

There are courts that have jurisdiction over this issue under the Convention. So the European Union can appear before the European Court of Justice. But in violation of international law, the UK is making it clear that it does not want to recognize the European Court of Justice on this issue. An independent arbitral tribunal is then due to be established, but the question arises whether the UK will also implement and recognize this provision.

What does this mean for Britain’s international reputation?

The UK’s credibility as a partner in the fight for the rules-based international order, which is currently acute in light of the Ukraine crisis, is called into question here. This is all the more dramatic because the kingdom has traditionally been one of the most reliable partners in defending the rules-based order and this reliability is demonstrated in the Ukraine crisis. I would not have said it a year ago, but the internal debate has now reached a level at which good partners of Great Britain like Switzerland have to ask themselves where, in the case of agreements, there is a fear that commitments will not be made for populist reasons.

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