Today, the High Court will hear a case against the Home Office’s “unlawful” Rwanda Policy, which seeks to send asylum seekers and refugees to the African country under a migration partnership signed in April this year. So far, no flights have gone ahead, after the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that individuals should not be removed until domestic courts have decided whether or not the policy is lawful.
Asylum Aid’s lawyers will argue that the Home Office designed flawed processes to make it quicker to send asylum seekers overseas, without the time to access legal services to put forward their case.
This is the second part of the legal challenge to the Home Office’s policy that aims to send asylum seekers to Rwanda for their claims to be processed there – without giving them a fair opportunity to make their case to stay in the UK. Asylum Aid are leading the case, with evidence from Care4Calais in preparation for the hearing.
The first part was heard over five days at the beginning of September. During that hearing the court heard from ten individuals who had been told they would be sent to Rwanda alongside arguments from charities Care4Calais and Detention Action, as well as the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCSU).
Under the migration partnership that former home secretary Priti Patel signed with the Rwandan government, no deportation flights have taken off so far. However, last week the current home secretary, Suella Braverman, stated during the Tory party conference that her “dream” is to have the image of a plane taking off to Rwanda on the front page of the Telegraph.
Her comments were shortly followed by reports that prime minister Liz Truss is set on “ramming through” a short Bill to stop European judges blocking deportations of asylum seekers from the UK.
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office warned the Home Office against the policy
The court considered evidence about Rwanda’s poor human rights record as well as from senior civil servants from the Home Office. The court also heard from representatives from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), which had warned the Home Office against the policy. Alongside the FCDO, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees strongly opposed the plans because of its concerns about Rwanda’s capacity to “deal properly with asylum seekers sent there”.
Not enough time to invoke their rights
The first “Notices of Intent” warning asylum seekers that they may be sent to Rwanda were served on 11 May 2022. The notices – which were written in English – were issued to several asylum seekers who were being held in detention just after arriving in the UK. These individuals were given seven days to find a lawyer, put forward their evidence and explain in written English why they should not be sent to Rwanda to be held in detention and processed.
Ahead of the hearing Asylum Aid said: “Making sure that all people fleeing countries where they are denied their rights are offered a genuinely fair process to make their case for protection has been a cornerstone of our justice system since at least the Second World War.”
The charity continued: “The Rwanda policy and the process under which the Homes Office wants to send people to Rwanda tramples over their rights and goes against the spirit of the Refugee Convention and everything we stand for.”
Concerns that initial screenings would fail vulnerable people
While the government has stated that asylum seekers and refugees will undergo screening for vulnerabilities before being sent to Rwanda, there are concerns from barristers about Home Office incompetence.
Barrister Miranda Butler has highlighted concerns with this approach. Butler said: “Given the well-recognised shortcomings of such Home Office screenings, including the widespread failures to identify serious mental and physical health problems as well as trafficking victims and torture survivors, there are serious questions about how effective this expedited system will be,” she said.