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Asylum seekers could be sent to Rwanda for ‘spending a couple of weeks in Brussels’ on way to Britain

Foreign shop receipts and tickets can also be used to declare people ‘inadmissible’ for asylum in the UK

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Editor
Tuesday 10 May 2022 19:40 BST
A former Rwandan ambassador to the US has warned the government that Rwanda is ‘more akin to a detention camp than a state where the people are sovereign’
A former Rwandan ambassador to the US has warned the government that Rwanda is ‘more akin to a detention camp than a state where the people are sovereign’ (PA)

Asylum seekers could be sent to Rwanda for “spending a couple of weeks in Brussels staying with friends” while journeying to the UK, or for being found with foreign receipts and train tickets in their pockets.

Home Office guidance – made public following threats of legal action by refugee charities – includes examples of reasons that people can be selected for removal under Priti Patel’s new scheme.

Ukrainian refugees have not been excluded, according to official documents that suggest that anyone who “travelled through safe third countries” like Poland or France can be considered.

They state that asylum seekers may be sent to Rwanda if their claim is deemed “inadmissible” under government policy, and they arrived by a small boat or another “dangerous” method after 1 January.

A document on what constitutes “inadmissibility” says it includes people deemed to have a connection to a safe country that is not the UK or their home nation.

That means that they have been recognised as a refugee in, travelled through, made an asylum application to or could have made an application to that country “on the balance of probabilities”.

Guidance for Home Office staff gives examples, saying that an asylum seeker who “passed through Belgium” before arriving in the UK could be declared inadmissible.

“An admission from the claimant that they had spent a couple of weeks in Brussels staying with friends while trying to find an agent to bring them illegally to the UK would likely constitute evidence that they had been in that particular country,” it states.

“The decision would also need to consider whether the claimant has provided any exceptional circumstances as to what they could not have made an application for protection in that particular country.”

The document states that even if asylum seekers deny having stayed in a safe country previously, “material in their belongings such as receipts and tickets from Belgian shops, services and transport showing time and freedom of movement in Belgium would likely meet the standard of proof required”.

Staff must weigh up any evidence that the receipts did not belong to that person or that “exceptional circumstances” meant they could not stay in Belgium, the guidance adds.

It says that removal to Rwanda should be considered if it “stands a greater chance” than removal to the country they are deemed to have a connection to.

Before Brexit, the UK was part of an EU-wide regulation that allowed the transfer of asylum seekers to countries they had previously stayed in.

It saw Britain send thousands of people to France, Belgium and other countries deemed responsible for them, but the deal has not been replaced by the EU and individual nations have told The Independent they will not negotiate the bilateral “returns agreements” originally promised by the government.

Stay in France if you don’t want to go to Rwanda, minister tells asylum seekers

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHRC)has vocally opposed the Rwanda deal, saying it “evades international obligations and is contrary to the letter and spirit of the Refugee Convention”.

Officials have said that there is no international legal obligation requiring refugees to seek asylum in the “first safe country they reach”, which is a key assertion underpinning the government’s policies.

“If all refugees were obliged to remain in the first safe country they encountered, the whole system would probably collapse,” the UNHCR added.

“The countries closer to zones of conflict and displacement would be totally overwhelmed, while countries further removed would share little or none of the responsibility. This would hardly be fair, or workable, and runs against the spirit of the convention.”

Under British law, asylum can only be claimed inside the UK and there is no visa for people wanting to reach the country specifically for that purpose.

It means that people who are not eligible for limited resettlement schemes must travel independently to the country.

Refugee charities have repeatedly called for the government to set up alternative routes that remove the need for English Channel crossings rather than pursuing increasingly punitive “deterrents”.

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants said the government was “not interested in taking the practical steps needed”.

“They could easily issue humanitarian visas and new pathways for people to re-join family here, but instead they continue to forge ahead with cruel and senseless asylum plans,” said interim chief executive Paola Uccellari.

“It’s time Priti Patel stopped dreaming up diabolical ways to treat people seeking safety here – whether that’s deporting people to Rwanda, or opening up prison-like asylum camps in rural Yorkshire. What we need are fair and effective asylum rules, which give people the chance to come here safely and build their lives in our communities.”

Clare Moseley, founder of Care4Calais, said: “If this government truly wished to shut down people smugglers, they would allow all refugees in Calais to apply for visas, as they have done for Ukrainians.

“The question is, why has this cheaper, easier and more humane option not been considered?”

The home secretary rebuffed a Conservative MP’s call for asylum processing in France earlier this year, telling parliament’s Home Affairs Committee that it would “make France a big magnet for more migrants to come”.

Amid a series of potential legal challenges against the Rwanda policy and the removal of individuals notified that they have been selected for it, the Home Office insisted that the plans were lawful and that it would defend any case “robustly”.

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