On 10 June 2022, the House of Lords International Agreements Committee, chaired by Baroness Hayter, launched an inquiry into the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the UK government and the government of the Republic of Rwanda for the provision of an Asylum Partnership Arrangement.
The UK-Rwanda MoU was published by the Government on 14 April 2022. It is a political agreement under which anyone who is deemed to have arrived illegally in the UK since 1 January 2022 may be relocated to Rwanda. Although their claim for asylum in the UK would not be considered, they would be able to claim asylum in Rwanda. However, concerns were raised by academics, legal practitioners, third-party stakeholders and activists in relation to the choice of an MoU as a tool for implementing the arrangement.
The UK-Rwanda MoU is an important agreement, which may have far-reaching consequences for individuals and their rights. Unlike formal international agreements (treaties) that are subject to formal parliamentary scrutiny arrangements under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, an MoU is not a treaty. Rather, it is a political arrangement between the UK and Rwanda, which is not designed to be binding in international law.
On 18 October 2022, the Lords Select Committee published its 7th Report of Session 2022–23 on the UK-Rwanda asylum agreement, citing written evidence submitted by Professor Theodore Konstadinides and Dr Anastasia Karatzia of the Essex Law School (para. 32).
Prof. Konstadinides and Dr. Karatzia questioned, in particular, whether an MoU is an appropriate vehicle for the relocation of asylum seekers deemed to have arrived illegally in the UK, “especially given: (a) the implications it has for individual rights, and (b) the assurances and safeguards included in the MoU, particularly those relating to inspection and monitoring, a relocated individuals’ access to legal assistance, and data protection which give rise to legitimate expectations as to the other party’s conduct.” They argue that such commitments would be better protected by a formal treaty.
In its final report, the Lords Select Committee criticised the UK government for having avoided any meaningful parliamentary scrutiny. It emphasised that, during the course of its inquiry, it “routinely heard” from witnesses that the UK-Rwanda MoU was inconsistent with the UK’s obligations under international law. However, the Committee refrained from offering any conclusions on the compatibility of the MoU with the UK’s international obligations, given the ongoing proceedings before the High Court concerning proposed deportations under the controversial agreement.
The Committee received 19 written submissions from academics, NGOs and lawyers, as well as a submission from the UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency. The written evidence can be accessed here.