Monday, April 22

UK officials raised concerns about Rwanda policy, documents show | Immigration and asylum

The Home Office pushed through its policy of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda despite repeated concerns from UK government officials, it has emerged from documents submitted to a high court hearing.

The government disclosed the documents, which raise numerous concerns about the Rwanda plans, ahead of a full hearing later this year into the lawfulness of the policy.

Claimants in the legal challenge include the charities Care4Calais and Detention Action and the PCS union, which represents many Home Office staff. They are working with several individual asylum seekers from countries including Iraq, Sudan, Syria and Albania who were threatened with removal to Rwanda on a flight on 14 June, which was grounded after legal action.

Extracts from the documents were submitted to the high court for a preliminary hearing to determine the date and timetable for the full hearing.

The government disclosures as part of the case reveal:

  • On 10 February 2021, the UK high commissioner to Rwanda said the UK should not do a deal with Rwanda because the African country had been accused of recruiting refugees to conduct armed operations in neighboring countries.

  • On 18 February 2021, Rwanda was identified as one of 14 countries assessed as presenting substantial issues in relation to asylum systems and human rights. Rwanda received an amber/red rating from the government owing to significant human rights concerns.

  • A Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office memo dated 20 May 2021 urged No 10 not to get involved with the Rwanda deal owing to significant human rights concerns.

  • An internal memo criticized the “limited evidence about whether these proposals will be a sufficient deterrent for those seeking to enter the UK illegally”.

  • A detailed internal memo that appears to be dated 12 April 2022, the day before a memorandum of understanding was signed between UK and Rwanda, stated that the “fraud risk is very high” in the deal because UK was paying so much money upfront to Rwanda .

  • A document from the day the memorandum was signed stated that the first group of asylum seekers due to be flown to Rwanda could “test” Rwanda’s refugee determination processes.

  • When the UK government conducted an independent assessment of Rwanda’s human rights record, the Home Office showed it to Rwanda to comment on the final draft and allowed officials to suggest amendments.

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Paul O’Connor, the head of bargaining at the PCS union, said: “The revelations at today’s hearing are extraordinary. They paint a picture of a home secretary desperate to railroad this policy through even in the face of serious reservations being raised by senior departmental officials. The documents before the court indicate that the home secretary is well aware of human rights violations in Rwanda.”

He added: “The government needs to abandon this policy if it is to retain a single shred of credibility that it takes its legal obligations seriously.”

Clare Moseley, the founder of Care4Calais, said: “Serious concerns were raised internally about the Rwanda policy. The home secretary has complete disregard for the lives of people who have already experienced unimaginable trauma.”

Documents submitted on behalf of the Home Office said there was strong public interest in listing this case “expeditiously” and “permitting government to put into effect a policy intended to determine illegal, unnecessary and dangerous journeys.”

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