Britain's Supreme Court has ruled that the government's plan to send asylum seekers who entered the country to Rwanda is unlawful, upholding a lower court ruling.
The British government planned to carry out the program in exchange for financial aid to the East African country. It said more than 45,000 people illegally entered Britain by boat in 2022. It added that measures to deal with them weigh on state coffers.
Groups supporting refugees and other organizations filed a lawsuit to stop the plan, calling it inhumane.
A court said in December that it is legal, but a higher court reversed the decision in June, prompting the government to appeal to the Supreme Court.
In Wednesday's ruling, the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal in a unanimous decision. The five justices said the Rwandan government's handling of human rights issues has been problematic. They also said the Rwandan government may not handle asylum claims properly and there is a risk of asylum seekers being ill-treated if they are returned to their country of origin.
Preventing illegal entry is one of the main policies of the administration of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, which said the transfer to Rwanda would serve as a deterrent. But the Supreme Court's decision is likely to deal a blow to the administration, which has been struggling with low approval ratings.
In response to the ruling, Sunak said, "This was not the outcome we wanted, but we have spent the last few months planning for all eventualities."
He said the courts have "confirmed that the principle of sending illegal migrants to a safe third country for processing is lawful. This confirms the government's clear view from the outset."
The prime minister added: "Illegal migration destroys lives and costs British taxpayers millions of pounds a year. We need to end it and we will do whatever it takes to do so."
The Rwandan government said in a statement that it objects to the ruling that Rwanda is not a safe third country for asylum seekers.
It said Rwanda and Britain have been cooperating to integrate those people into Rwandan society, and that Rwanda's exemplary treatment of refugees is recognized by international organizations, including the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.