Priti Patel Rwanda deportations to go ahead without promised watchdog to monitor conditions

Monitoring committee will not be set up for months by flights set to begin next week

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Friday 10 June 2022 19:48 BST
Home Secretary Priti Patel is behind the policy (Yui Mok/PA)
Home Secretary Priti Patel is behind the policy (Yui Mok/PA) (PA Wire)

Priti Patel is deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda without a promised watchdog intended to oversee the process and protect their rights, The Independent has learned.

Earlier this year the government committed to setting up a monitoring committee for the controversial removal programme – which would report back on conditions and raise the alarm over any problems.

But ministers have now quietly admitted that the watchdog, as well as a separate joint committee, have still not been set up despite the Home Office pressing ahead with the first flights next week.

It comes as the UN’s refugee agency said the entire programme was in breach of Britain’s commitments under the 1951 UN refugee convention and the High Court considers whether to grant an injunction to stop flights.

Immigration minister Tom Pursglove last month told a parliamentary evidence session that the monitoring committee was about “providing proper oversight” of the scheme – which human rights groups warn risks the safety of asylum seekers and breaches the UK’s legal obligations.

But the Home Office now admits the monitoring board will not be set up for “months”, with no timescale at all for the separate “joint committee” that would also oversee the programme.

The delay means the government is pressing ahead with the removals without even the basic oversight it promised.

Amnesty International’s country profile says people in Rwanda are subject to “violations of the right to a fair trial, freedom of expression and privacy”, alongside “enforced disappearances, allegations of torture and excessive use of force”.

Formal removal direction letters have already been sent to 130 asylum seekers by the Home Office in preparation for planned flights next week.

The United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, on Friday threw its weigh behind a possible High Court injunction, arguing that the UK-Rwanda deal overall was “incompatible with the letter and spirit of the 1951 convention”.

In a written parliamentary answer to a question from the Bishop of Durham, Home Office minister Baroness Williams said both the monitoring committee’s membership and even its terms of reference were still “in the process of being developed” by the Home Office and said it would start work “in the coming months”.

But despite the safeguards not being ready, home secretary Ms Patel announced last week that the first flight to the African country would be on Tuesday 14 June.

The headline-grabbing announcement that the removals would go ahead immediately came as Boris Johnson sought to move the news agenda on from the backlash over his lockdown lawbreaking in Downing Street.

“The Rwanda plan is abhorrent, and we believe it will be rightly struck down by the courts,” said Fizza Qureshi, CEO of the Migrants’ Rights Network.

“But what makes this plan even more appalling is that there is no appropriate monitoring in place to ensure that human rights are not further violated.

“With the threats of flights as early as next week, this government clearly does not care how this awful plan will impact those they remove to Rwanda, nor are they willing to allow those in opposition to this plan to have the opportunity to scrutinise it.”

The Bishop of Durham, Paul Butler, who tabled the written questions about the oversight boards, told The Independent: “It is deeply disturbing that the government is pushing ahead with this policy when they promised safeguards through a monitoring board would be in place.

“Further, the stories of some of those who are to be deported suggests very clearly that they have completely legitimate asylum claims that are being ignored.

“It is an inhumane policy that will not achieve what it purports to do. Please, home secretary, think again.”

Mary Atkinson, campaigns officer at the Joint Committee for the Welfare of Immigrants, said the government’s “treatment of people seeking safety here flies in the face of these basic human values”.

She added: “This government likely knows their plan to deport people seeking safety here 4,000 miles away is inhumane, racist and potentially unlawful, so it’s understandable that they would want to avoid scrutiny on it.

“By pushing ahead with this ugly plan under cover of darkness, this government is sending a clear message: it thinks it can make its own rules and mark its own homework. A growing number of people won’t stand for it – that’s why we’re seeing more and more people speak out against the Rwanda deal, and demand compassion and welcome instead.”

In her answer to the bishop, Home Office minister Baroness Williams said: “The terms of reference and membership of the monitoring committee for the Migration and Economic Development Partnership are in the process of being developed.

“The monitoring committee is due to become operational in the coming months. More details on this will be set out in due course.”

Referring to the second watchdog, she said: “The co-chairs for the joint committee will be decided upon in due course.”

The Home Office internally refers to people included in the programme as “removals” rather than “deportations”. A Home Office spokesperson said: “Our world-leading partnership with Rwanda is a key part of our strategy to overhaul the broken asylum system. We have been clear from the start that we expected legal challenges. However, we are determined to deliver this new partnership.

“We have now issued formal directions to the first group of people due to be relocated to Rwanda later this month. This marks a critical step towards operationalising the policy, which fully complies with international and national law.”

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