Rwanda deportation plan ‘could easily unravel’ as Boris Johnson announces delay

Home Office source suggests ministers want legal action so they can ‘point frustration at the courts’

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Tuesday 03 May 2022 19:25
Comments
Archbishop of Canterbury criticises Rwanda policy during Easter message

Ministers have abandoned plans to send the first asylum-seekers to Rwanda this month as promised, prompting accusations that they are blaming legal challenges rather than admit that the idea is “unworkable”.

After the multi-million pound deal was announced last month, Boris Johnson said the first flights would take off within “weeks” – but his spokesperson on Tuesday said it would now be “a matter of months”.

No 10 has blamed legal challenges against the policy but also insisted court action would not put the controversial project “on hold”.

Charities and lawyers said the delay indicated that ministers had accepted that the challenges of implementing the policy were “far greater than it had anticipated”, and that there was now a likelihood that it could “easily unravel” because the logistics have “simply not been thought through”.

Meanwhile, one Home Office source believes the government “actually wants” legal challenges so that ministers can “point to their frustration at being blocked by the courts and push for more power over court decisions.”

The source told The Independent that the current policy “will be difficult” to implement, but added: “I don’t think politically they will abandon the idea though, it will carry into the next election manifesto I would guess.”

Experts had questioned Mr Johnson’s claim that the scheme – which he has said will see tens of thousands of people deported there after arriving in the UK via irregular means – could start almost immediately, with some doubting whether any refugees would ever be sent to Rwanda.

The prime minister’s spokesman acknowledged that the legal action was not “unexpected” and described it as only “one of the variables” affecting hopes for the scheme.

“We are working to get the first flights moving – I don’t know definitely what timescale that will be,” he added.

An analysis by the Refugee Council last month found that fewer than 200 asylum seekers would be deported to the east African country under existing immigration rules, casting doubt over the prime minister’s claims.

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the charity, said: “The government’s desire to treat people as human cargo and expelling them to Rwanda is not only appallingly and unprincipled – it also unworkable.

“The government now seems to be accepting that the challenges of making it a reality are far greater than it had anticipated. There’s a likelihood that it could now easily unravel and certainly never be on a scale the prime minister said it could be.”

Sonya Sceats, chief executive at Freedom from Torture, a charity bringing one of the legal challenges, said: “It is obvious that ministers are hiding behind court cases rather than admit that this inhumane plan is unworkable.

“Critical operational considerations have simply not been thought through, including the risks of sharing sensitive data about refugees with a repressive state known to practice torture.”

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael said the “cruel” plan was “rapidly turning into yet another expensive mess”, adding: “It isn’t deterring people from crossing the Channel, and it’s already mired in predictable delays.

“Everything the Conservatives have done has only made this problem worse. It’s time they realised that the best way to prevent the crossings, and combat the smuggling and trafficking gangs, is to provide safe and legal routes to sanctuary for refugees.”

Around 550 people have crossed from France in small boats in the last two days following an 11-day pause, casting doubts over claims by some Conservative MPs that the Rwanda threat is already acting as a deterrent.

The government has argued legal powers already exist to allow asylum-seekers to be sent to Rwanda, but critics argue it breaches both the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the Geneva Convention.

Toufique Hossain, director of public law at Duncan Lewis, which is representing the civil service union (Public and Commercial Services Union) and two charities in a court challenge against the policy, said the delay “could suggest that the home secretary has finally worked out what most people already know - the plans are unworkable, unlawful and a huge waste of tax payers’ money”.

Immigration lawyer Alasdair Mackenzie echoed his remarks, saying: “Legal challenges will undoubtedly – and rightly - happen, but they’d be a convenient smokescreen for the fact that the practical mechanics of the Rwanda plan – who qualifies, where will they live, how do you stop them coming back, etc – have blatantly not been thought through.”

The Home Office said in mid-April that the first people to be removed to Rwanda would receive formal notifications in the coming weeks and that the first flights were expected to take place in the coming months.

A spokesperson for the department said the partnership with Rwanda “fully complies with international and national law” and that it would “defend any legal challenge robustly”.

“This world-leading migration partnership will overhaul our broken asylum system, which is currently costing the UK taxpayer £1.5bn a year – the highest amount in two decades,” they said.

“It means those arriving dangerously, illegally or unnecessarily can be relocated to have their asylum claims considered and, if recognised as refugees, build their lives there.”

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in