‘They’re keeping me here like a criminal’: Asylum seekers still locked up after failed Rwanda flight

Ministers accused of subjecting vulnerable people to ‘cruel experiment’

<p>Keeping asylum seekers detained leaves the government ‘wide-open’ to litigation and aggravated damages claim, legal experts say </p>

Keeping asylum seekers detained leaves the government ‘wide-open’ to litigation and aggravated damages claim, legal experts say

Asylum seekers detained for removal to Rwanda weeks ago are still being held in detention despite the last-minute grounding of the flight, which legal experts say leaves the government “wide-open” to litigation and aggravated damages claims.

Ministers have been accused of subjecting vulnerable people to a “cruel experiment” after it emerged that the vast majority of people who the Home Office had hoped to deport to east Africa – most of whom were not even given tickets for the flight – remain locked up.

This is despite the fact that there is no further flight planned at this stage, meaning there is no “imminent prospect of removal”, which lawyers say makes their continued detention potentially unlawful.

A small number of the approximately 130 people originally detained for removal under the new policy have been released in recent days after applying for bail with the specialist immigration court, indicating that bail judges believe this cohort should be released. But bail applications can be a timely process and usually require detainees to have legal representation.

Asylum seekers who remain in detention have told The Independent they feel as though they are being “treated like criminals” after being held for weeks without being given any indication as to when they will be released.

Legal experts described the Home Office’s decision to hold people in detention as “outrageous behaviour” and warned that it could lead to ministers facing a “spate of unlawful detention claims”.

Pierre Makhlouf, legal director at Bail for Immigration Detainees, which is representing 15 asylum seekers applying for bail applications, said many such people have “strong claims for immigration bail and claims that their continued detention would be unlawful”.

He added: “[The government] is detaining people who cannot be removed quickly to Rwanda because of outstanding litigation. It is evading basic common law duties to act fairly, to publish policies or to assess the appropriateness of detaining people depending on their individual circumstances.

“Unnecessary detention, particularly of vulnerable people is degrading and can be harmful. The blanket approach combined with total disregard for any procedural fairness leaves the government wide-open to litigation, and to aggravated damages claims.”

One Afghan man, who did not wish to be named, has been in Brook House removal centre for five weeks after being issued with a “notice of intent” in mid-May. He was not among those given a ticket for the Rwanda flight last week and doesn’t understand why he is still being held in detention.

Scores of men whom ministers wanted to send to Rwanda are still being held in removal centres despite last week’s flight being grounded

“[The Home Office is] not telling me anything. I don’t know why they are keeping me here like a criminal. I feel sick about it. Every day I’m thinking about when I get released. I want to go to Birmingham to be with my cousin and my uncle, lots of family and friends. I lived there before,” he told The Independent.

“No one is relaxed in here. We should be able to get out. There’s lots of stress here. It’s very difficult. Some people have been released, but everybody still here is worried about what happens next.”

Karen Doyle, from campaign group Movement for Justice, compared the decision to keep people detained as “an awful waiting game, a cruel experiment on human beings”.

She added: “The government doesn’t know if it can make this Rwanda policy work but are prepared to subject refugees to the torture of indefinite detention anyway.”

A Home Office spokesperson refused to comment on the number of asylum seekers still being held in detention, but said: “Where it is necessary to secure their removal we will keep people in detention, but if a court orders that an individual due to be on Tuesday’s flight should be released on bail, we will tag them where appropriate.

“Our world-leading and innovative migration partnership with Rwanda will ensure those making dangerous journeys to the UK are relocated to Rwanda to rebuild a new life there.”

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