Second legal challenge launched over deal to send asylum seekers to Rwanda

Home Office description of Rwanda as a ‘safe third country’ is irrational, legal letter says

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Editor
Tuesday 24 May 2022 13:24 BST
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A second legal challenge has been launched against the government’s plans to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Freedom from Torture argues that the Home Office’s description of the nation as a safe country is “irrational”, and that the policy breaches human rights laws and the Refugee Convention.

The group is seeking a judicial review of the plan, following the publication of documents showing that asylum seekers could be transferred to Rwanda if they are deemed “inadmissible” for consideration in the UK.

That includes people who arrive on small boats and have a connection to another safe country, such as having “spent a couple of weeks in Brussels staying with friends”.

Freedom from Torture’s pre-action letter, seen by The Independent, demands a response from the Home Office by Monday afternoon.

“If a response is not received, and in the event that the assurances sought are not provided, we reserve the right to issue [court] proceedings,” it adds.

Freedom from Torture has required assurances that no asylum seekers will be sent to Rwanda before the Home Office responds to its letter and requests for further information, and any legal action is complete.

A separate legal challenge has been launched by the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), Care4Calais and Detention Action, who have issued two pre-action letters to the Home Office.

At the same time, dozens of individual asylum seekers are understood to be challenging “notices of intent” informing them that they are being considered for deportation to Rwanda.

Sonya Sceats, chief executive of Freedom from Torture, said: “This is a pivotal moment about who we are as a country.

“Priti Patel’s cruel Rwanda scheme goes completely against the public’s compassionate outpouring of support for welcoming refugees, and shows how out of touch this government is with people across this country who believe in kindness and human decency.”

Solicitor Carolin Ott, who represents the charity, said it was “extremely concerned” about the legality of the policy.

“Our client considers that the home secretary’s conclusion that Rwanda is generally a safe third country is irrational on the evidence available, and perhaps most concerningly appears to have been reached on the basis of apparent pre-determination or bias,” she added.

“Our client further considers the policy constitutes a breach of the Home Secretary’s duty not to induce breaches of human rights by her agents and is unlawful because it is contrary to the Refugee Convention.

“A policy which raises such a ‘shopping list’ of potential illegality and poses such a risk to individuals should plainly not be enforced until its lawfulness has been properly tested.”

Rwandan foreign minister Vincent Biruta and home secretary Priti Patel, right, during a visit to the UN headquarters in Geneva on 19 May 2022

Home Office guidance says that removal to Rwanda should be considered for inadmissible asylum seekers 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 allowed Britain to send 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.

The UN Refugee Agency 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.

The home secretary backed the Rwanda deal during a visit to Geneva on Thursday, when she held meetings with United Nations representatives alongside the Rwandan foreign minister.

The Home Office said they set out how they were “facing up to a shared, global challenge and seeking to save lives”, and that Rwanda would process claims in accordance with the UN Refugee Convention and human rights laws.

But Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, maintained his opposition, writing: “Shifting asylum responsibilities is not the solution. The UNHCR will continue proposing concrete alternatives that respect international refugee law.”

Mr Grandi has also issued warnings over the new Nationality and Borders Act, which criminalises asylum seekers who cross the Channel in small boats, and wider moves to declare their applications “inadmissible”.

He said the changes “have the potential to deny refugees their right to seek asylum in the UK” and are “at variance with the Refugee Convention”.

A record of over 9,000 migrants have crossed the English Channel in small boats so far this year, with at least 2,700 making the journey after the Rwanda deal was announced in April.

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