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Rwanda bill ‘raises major concerns’, top human rights official says



The Rwanda bill that ministers hope will curb the number of small boats crossing the Channel “raises major concerns”, a leading human rights official has said as he called for key clauses to be reversed.

Michael O’Flaherty, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, said he was “concerned” about the new law and he wanted the British government to “refrain from removing people under the Rwanda policy”.

He told Sky News: “Managing asylum and migration is undoubtedly a complex endeavour for states but it must always be done in full compliance with international standards.

“In this regard, I am concerned that the Rwanda bill enables the implementation of a policy of removing people to Rwanda without any prior assessment of their asylum claims by UK authorities in the majority of cases.

“The UK government should refrain from removing people under the Rwanda policy and reverse the bill’s effective infringement of judicial independence.”

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Migrants brought to shore in Dover

Mr O’Flaherty’s intervention comes on the day at least five migrants died, including a seven-year-old girl, attempting to cross the Channel on an overcrowded small boat.

The Rwanda bill, which finally passed the House of Lords just after midnight following a lengthy struggle, is aimed at deterring people from making these dangerous journeys and, Rishi Sunak says, limit people smugglers’ deadly trade.

Human rights groups have described the legislation as inhumane and cruel.

Mr O’Flaherty said there was still a danger of migrants being deported from Rwanda back to countries from which they had fled – contrary to international law – and criticised the idea that ministers could not decide whether or not to adhere to rulings by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

He said: “Such measures are binding and failure to comply with them undermines the right to individual petition guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights.”

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Mr O’Flaherty claimed the Rwanda bill was part of a wider move, among European nations, to “externalise” asylum and migration policy, presumably echoing Italy’s plan to process migrants in Albania and the EU’s deals with countries including Libya, Tunisia and Turkey.

This, he claimed, was “a matter of concern for the global system of protection of the rights of refugees”.

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Mr O’Flaherty, an Irishman who has spent his career working in the field of human rights, took over the role of commissioner earlier this month.

His role is to monitor human rights across the 46 members of the Council of Europe, and to make recommendations.

Although he is impartial, and not connected to the ECHR, the court is part of the Council of Europe.

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