Pact indefinitely keeps open ‘Australia’s Gitmo’

Nauru

A new memorandum of understanding allowing Australia to continue to indefinitely detain asylum seekers at a facility on the Pacific island of Nauru was signed on Sept. 24. Since 2012, asylum seekers arriving by boat have been barred from settlement in Australia and sent to offshore detention centers instead. The deal extending use of the Nauru facility comes just as the governments of Australia and Papua New Guinea (PNG) finally reached an agreement to close the contentious Manus Island Regional Processing Center. In the dealannounced Oct. 6, Australia and the PNG finalized a Regional Resettlement Arrangement in which detainees on Manus Island will either be transferred to Nauru or allowed to remain in Papua New Guinea with a “migration pathway” allowing eventual legal residency.

The Australian-run detention center on Manus Island was found to be illegal and ordered closed by the PNG Supreme Court in 2016. Australia was forced to pay more than $70 million in compensation to those detained. But five years later, at least 124 asylum seekers remain in the center on Manus. Both the Manus Island and Nauru facilities have been harshly criticized by rights groups, and both have been dubbed “Australia’s Guantánamo.”

Despite these criticisms, several European countries—including the UK and Denmark—have expressed interest in establishing similar systems, in which asylum seekers will be forced to wait at offshore locations in an arrangement with a third country. (TNH, Jurist)

Photo of Nauru facility via Wikipedia

  1. UK in ‘shamefully cruel’ migration deal with Rwanda

    Tens of thousands of asylum seekers could be sent to Rwanda as part of a new effort announced by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on April 14 to prevent people from crossing the English Channel. Human rights groups immediately denounced the policy as “shamefully cruel.” Channel crossings have increased over the past two years, and the UK has responded by initiating an overhaul of its asylum system to prevent those who make the journey from receiving protection. (TNH)

  2. ECHR rules against UK

    The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) June 14 issued a last minute interim measure to potentially stop the planned deportations of seven UK asylum-seekers to Rwanda. The ruling applies directly to only one asylum seeker, but the court’s reasoning applies to all seven. The ruling will delay the deportations until at least three weeks after the final legal challenges have been heard. (Jurist)

  3. UK plan to deport asylum-seekers to Rwanda found lawful

    The UK government’s plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda does not breach the law, the High Court in London ruled. The decision is based on UK human rights groups’ request for an injunction to prevent the removal of asylum seekers in June.

    In the decision, two senior judges at the High Court of England & Wales dismissed challenges against the policy as a whole. But the judges ruled in favor of eight asylum-seekers, finding the UK government had acted wrongly in their individual cases. (Jurist)

  4. UK Court of Appeal finds Rwanda refugee removal plan unlawful

    The UK Court of Appeal on June 29 ruled that the UK government’s “Rwanda Plan” is unlawful. In the ruling, Lord Chief Justice Burnett reversed a High Court finding, writing, “Unless and until the deficiencies in its asylum processes are corrected, removal of asylum seekers to Rwanda will be unlawful.” (Jurist)

  5. Australia high court: indefinite immigration detention unlawful

    In a landmark decision, the High Court of Australia ruled Nov. 8 that detaining asylum seekers and migrants indefinitely is unlawful. Close to 100 people who are being held indefinitely stand to be released. Australian governments have long used indefinite detention to deter migrants from attempting to reach the country. (TNH)

  6. UK signs treaty to send asylum seekers to Rwanda

    UK Home Secretary James Cleverly signed a treaty Dec. 5 with Rwanda, in an attempt to overcome a recent ruling by the UK Supreme Court which blocked the government’s policy to send asylum seekers to the African nation. At a press conference, Cleverly insisted that “this treaty addresses all of the issues of their lordships in the Supreme Court.” (Jurist)

  7. UK seeks emergency legislation to declare Rwanda safe for asylum

    The UK government published emergency legislation Dec. 6 that would declare Rwanda a safe country for asylum seekers and push through their controversial deportation policy. Shortly after the legislation’s release, UK Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick resigned, stating that the bill did not provide robust assurance that the Rwanda policy would be shielded from legal challenge. (Jurist)

  8. UK: Rwanda bill passes first vote in Commons

    UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s bill to legalise the deportation of asylum seekers to Rwanda squeaked through parliament Dec. 12. Dozens of Conservative Party members abstained, either over concerns about its legality or because they didn’t believe it went far enough towards stopping Channel crossings. Almost 20,000 migrants and asylum seekers have crossed from France this year, down from 45,755 in 2022. At least 64 have died attempting the crossing since 2018. The UK Supreme Court ruled last month that deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda was unlawful because the country is not safe. The bill will be up for another vote in January. (TNH)

  9. UNHCR decries UK’s migration pact with Rwanda

    The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) deemed the transfer of asylum seekers under the UK’s new Rwanda arrangement a violation of international law in a legal analysis published on Jan. 15. (Jurist)

  10. House of Commons passes bill declaring Rwanda ‘safe country​’

    The UK House of Commons passed a bill to declare Rwanda a “safe country” by 320 votes to 276. The Safety of Rwanda (Asylum & Immigration) Bill now moves to the House of Lords. (Jurist)

  11. Diego Garcia not ‘suitable location’ for stranded migrants: UN

    The UN said the remote British Indian Ocean territory of Diego Garcia, where around 60 asylum seekers have been left stranded in a joint US-UK military base–some since late 2021–is “not a suitable location” for the group. Britain sent three to Rwanda for medical treatment, where they reported sexual abuse and harassment, raising further concerns over the UK government’s planned asylum deal with Kigali. (TNH)  

  12. House of Lords deals blow to UK migration pact with Rwanda

    The UK government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda suffered a setback Jan. 22, when the House of Lords voted to require the government to substantiate its claims that Rwanda is a safe country before ratifying the new treaty with the African nation. (Jurist)

  13. UN expresses concern over UK migration pact with Rwanda

    The UN expressed concern Feb. 20 over the UK government’s moves to make the Rwanda deal operational. The Rwanda deal facilitates the prompt removal of asylum-seekers to Rwanda.

    The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker TĂĽrk, stated: “You cannot legislate facts out of existence.” He warned: “The combined effects of this bill, attempting to shield Government action from standard legal scrutiny, directly undercut basic human rights principles.”

    The UK’s Select Committee on the Constitution echoed the concern voiced by TĂĽrk. The House of Lords appoints the committee “to examine the constitutional implications of public bills.”  (Jurist)

  14. UK migration act will mean ‘perma-backlog’ of asylum seekers

    The UK Illegal Migration Act will cause over 30,000 backlogged asylum applications unable to be processed, according to a report released Feb. 28 by the Institute for Policy Research (IPPR). These asylum seekers are considered “perma-backlogged,” as cannot be removedto their unsafe home country but are also deemed permanently inadmissible pursuant to the newly enacted asylum law. (Jurist)

  15. UN calls on UK to withdraw Rwanda bill

    The UN Committee on Human Rights called on the UK on March 28 to withdraw the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill and certain provisions of the Illegal Migration Act 2023 due to human rights considerations. The Committee stated that it is “deeply concerned” that these laws risk potential discrimination against migrants and asylum seekers and breach UN Conventions on the treatment of refugees. (Jurist)

  16. Migrants drown in English Channel as UK approves Rwanda policy

    Five migrants, including a child, died in an attempt to cross the English Channel from France to Britain in an overcrowded small boat April 23, just hours after the UK passed a bill to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda in a move to deter the dangerous journeys.

    The British parliament finally passed legislation overnight to allow the deportations and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said he expects the first flights to take off in 10 to 12 weeks, giving time for further legal challenges. (Reuters)

  17. UK Rwanda bill becomes law with Royal Assent

    King Charles III has given his assent to the UK government’s legislation which will allow asylum seekers to be sent to Rwanda. The Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill 2024 received Royal Assent on April 25 and will now become law in the UK. (Jurist)

  18. UK rounding up asylum seekers for Rwanda deportation

    The UK has begun detaining asylum seekers to send to Rwanda. The move comes a week after the UK parliament passed a controversial law paving the way for people arriving by boat to seek protection to be deported to Rwanda. The UN and human rights groups have slammed the new policy, raising concerns about Rwanda’s human rights record and the impact of the UK sending asylum seekers to a third country on the global refugee protection system. The UK government plans to start deportation in 10 to 12 weeks and is aiming to send around 5,700 people to Rwanda this year.

    The number of people arriving in the UK by small boat peaked in 2022 at around 45,000—equivalent to 0.00067% of the population of the UK, the sixth wealthiest country in the world by GDP. The labour union representing UK civil servants has launched a legal challenge to the UK’s Rwanda policy, fearing that implementing it will force civil servants to breach international law. Other legal challenges are expected. Since 2014, at least 240 migrants and asylum seekers have died or gone missing trying to cross the English Channel from France, according to the UN’s IOM migration agency. (TNH)

  19. Northern Ireland high court deals blow to UK Migration Act

    The High Court of Northern Ireland delivered a setback to UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda deportation policy by ruling that substantial sections of the Illegal Migration Act (IMA) violate human rights laws and should not be enforced in Northern Ireland. The IMA, passed in 2023, bars individuals who arrive in the UK through irregular methods like small boat crossings from being eligible to seek asylum. The prime minister said that the judgment would not change the government’s Rwanda deportation plans. (Jurist)