Human Rights

Airlines told to steer clear of UK-Rwanda asylum handoffs

UN experts have expressed concern over the role airlines and aviation authorities could have in the unlawful removal of asylum seekers from the United Kingdom to Rwanda under an agreement between the two governments and the proposed ‘Safety of Rwanda’ Bill. 

Two years ago, the UK announced the Migration and Economic Development Partnership (MEDP), now referred to as the UK-Rwanda Asylum Partnership, which stated that asylum-seekers in the UK would be sent to Rwanda before their cases could be heard.

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The national Rwandan asylum system would then consider their need for international protection. 

In November 2023, the UK Supreme Court said the policy was unlawful due to safety concerns in Rwanda. In response, the UK and Rwanda created the ‘Safety of Rwanda’ Bill, declaring Rwanda a safe country, among other stipulations.

Risk of Refoulement 

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is working on having the bill passed and recently said that the first flight transporting asylum seekers is set to leave in 10-12 weeks, around July, according to international media reports.

However, the UN Special Rapporteurs warned that removing asylum seekers to Rwanda, or anywhere else, could put airlines and aviation authorities at risk of refoulement – the forced return of refugees or asylum seekers to a country where they may face persecution, torture, or other serious harm – “which would violate the right to be free from torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.” 

The experts said that “even if the UK-Rwanda agreement and the ‘Safety of Rwanda’ Bill are approved, airlines and aviation regulators could be complicit in violating internationally protected human rights and court orders by facilitating removals to Rwanda.” 

They added that airlines should be held responsible if they assist in the removal of asylum seekers from the UK.

The UN experts have been in contact with the UK Government, and national, European and international aviation regulators, to remind them of their responsibilities, including under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. 

The UN Human Rights Council appoints special rapporteurs to monitor and report on global situations and issues. They serve in their individual capacity, are not UN staff, are independent of any government or organization, and are not compensated for their work. 



  1. The UN Special Rapporteurs’ concerns are valid. Airlines and aviation authorities must not play a role in facilitating the unlawful removal of asylum seekers. It is crucial to prioritize the safety and rights of these vulnerable individuals in such situations.

  2. As a frequent flyer, I believe airlines should not be complicit in facilitating UK-Rwanda asylum transfers. It’s crucial to uphold human rights and ensure the safety of asylum seekers, rather than risking their well-being through such agreements.

  3. As a frequent traveler, I believe airlines should prioritize human rights over government agreements. It is concerning to see asylum seekers potentially facing harm due to such transfers. Airlines must take a stand against facilitating these unjust removals.

  4. As a frequent traveler, I find it disturbing that airlines could be involved in the unlawful removal of asylum seekers. Aviation authorities need to prioritize human rights over government agreements for the safety and well-being of all passengers.

  5. As an aviation professional, I strongly believe that airlines should not be involved in the unlawful removal of asylum seekers. It is crucial for airlines and aviation authorities to prioritize human rights and ethical practices over government agreements.

  6. Do the aviation authorities understand the potential risks involved in participating in these asylum handoffs?

    1. Aviation authorities must thoroughly comprehend the potential risks entailed in engaging in these asylum handoffs to ensure the safety and rights of asylum seekers are upheld.

  7. I believe that airlines and aviation authorities should not be involved in the unlawful removal of asylum seekers. It is concerning that this agreement between the UK and Rwanda could potentially endanger the safety and well-being of vulnerable individuals. Governments should prioritize respecting the rights and protection of asylum seekers rather than implementing policies that put them at risk.

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