Earlier, in a split two-to-one ruling, three U.K. Court of Appeal judges said Rwanda could not be considered a “safe third country” where migrants could be sent, stopping London's "Rwanda One-Way" deportation plan for now.
But in a partial victory for the government, the appeals court ruled Thursday that the U.K.’s international obligations did not rule out removing asylum-seekers to a safe third country.
Two of the three judges ruled asylum seekers “would face a real risk of being returned to their countries of origin,” where they could be mistreated.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he respected the court but "fundamentally" disagreed with the judges' conclusions.
"Rwanda is a safe country. The High Court agreed. The (UN refugee agency) UNHCR have their own refugee scheme for Libyan refugees in Rwanda," he said.
"We will now seek permission to appeal this decision to the Supreme Court."
Sunak has pledged to “stop the boats” — a reference to the overcrowded dinghies and other small craft that make the journey from northern France carrying migrants who hope to live in the U.K. More than 45,000 people arrived in Britain across the Channel in 2022, and several died in the attempt.
The U.K. and Rwandan governments agreed more than a year ago that some migrants who arrive in the U.K. as stowaways or in small boats would be sent to Rwanda, where their asylum claims would be processed. Those granted asylum would stay in the East African country rather than return to Britain.
Rwanda says it still supports the deportation plan despite the Appeal Court ruling.
The U.K. government argues that the policy will deter criminal gangs that ferry migrants on hazardous journeys across one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.
Human rights groups say it is immoral and inhumane to send people more than 6,400km to a country they don’t want to live in. They also cite Rwanda’s poor human rights record, including allegations of torture and killings of government opponents.
Britain has already paid Rwanda 140 million pounds ($170 million) under the deal, but no one has yet been deported there.
Britain's High Court ruled in December that the policy is legal and doesn't breach Britain’s obligations under the U.N. Refugee Convention or other international agreements, rejecting a lawsuit from several asylum-seekers, aid groups and a border officials’ union.
But the court allowed the claimants to challenge that decision on issues including whether the plan is "systemically unfair" and whether asylum-seekers would be safe in Rwanda.