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The United Kingdom’s Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the government’s plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda for processing was unlawful, a verdict that deals a blow to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s policy to curb the number of migrants entering the country, CBS News reported.

The case centers on a deal signed between the United Kingdom and Rwanda last year that allowed the UK to send anyone arriving on its shores illegally to the East African nation to have their asylum claims processed. The plan was estimated to cost the UK government at least $175 million in payments to Rwanda.

The deal’s aim was to put a halt to the increasing number of migrants trying to reach the UK via small boats across the English Channel.

But in its ruling, the court said asylum seekers would face “a real risk of ill-treatment by reason of refoulement to their country of origin if they were removed to Rwanda.”

Non-refoulement stands as a fundamental principle in international law, ensuring that asylum seekers are safeguarded against compulsory return to the nation they had fled.

The court added that Rwanda has “a poor human rights record,” and cautioned there were substantial grounds to believe that asylum claims would not be properly determined by Rwandan officials.

Sunak expressed disappointment at the decision, but noted that the government will work on a new treaty with the African nation, as well as “revisit our domestic legal frameworks” if necessary.

The Rwandan government said the decision was ultimately one for the UK’s judicial system, but rejected the court’s assertions that it was not “a safe third country for asylum seekers and refugees.”

Meanwhile, human rights groups welcomed the verdict, saying the British government’s policy “sought to punish rather than protect those fleeing conflict and persecution.”

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