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UK home secretary asked for details of Rwanda asylum-seeker plan ahead of legal challenge

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Refugees rescued from the English Channel are brought into Dover on the Border Force Catamaran Rescue Boat, BF Hurricane, Britain, on September 8, 2021. (Photo by Reuters)

UK Home Secretary Priti Patel has been asked to provide details of controversial plans to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda ahead of a potential legal challenge, a British refugee charity says.

In a pre-action letter to the Home Office, which is expected to lead to a judicial review claim, the charity’s legal representatives, Leigh Day, stated on Wednesday that the charity Freedom from Torture “has serious concerns about the lawfulness of the policy.”

The letter says that while a memorandum of understanding between the UK and Rwanda has been published, information about the policy has not been made publicly available.

Under the deal, signed off by Patel and praised by Boris Johnson, the migrants and asylum-seekers illegally entering Britain would be sent thousands of miles away to Rwanda as part of a deal with the African country. Johnson has claimed that the deal would stop human smugglers from sending desperate migrants on treacherous journeys across the English Channel.

The UK has promised Rwanda an initial £120m as part of an “economic transformation and integration fund” but the UK will be paying for operational costs too. However, no further details have been released by the Home Office.

The charity is asking for any document that sets out the policy of relocating asylum seekers to Rwanda, any guidance or rules provided to Home Office staff or other UK officials, any documents relating to co-operation with Rwanda, and any equality impact or risk assessments carried out in relation to the policy.

“This cruel plan is not only deeply immoral and likely unlawful, it would also deny torture survivors and others access to vital trauma services like those provided by Freedom From Torture,” said Sonya Sceats, chief executive of Freedom From Torture.

“We shouldn’t have to resort to legal action for this government to treat refugees with basic human dignity – but here we are again,” Sceats said.

Meanwhile, representatives from other charities such as Detention Action, Care4Calais, and the PCS have sent a joint letter challenging the home secretary’s failure to disclose the criteria dictating which people seeking asylum will be transferred by force to East Africa and which will remain in the UK.

Freedom From Torture, the PCS, and Care4Calais were involved in a challenge that was due to be heard next week against Patel over plans to “push back” migrants in boats crossing the English Channel, but the planned policy was withdrawn on Sunday.

“We are confident that the government pulled the policy at the last minute not because they had a change of heart about the sanctity of human life, but because they realized they were going to lose,” Sceats said.

“The government’s plan to send refugees to Rwanda is a threat to the lives of refugees, the international reputation of the United Kingdom and the finances of British people,” said Clare Moseley, founder of Care4Calais.

According to the UN Refugees Agency (UNHCR), in the year 2021, the UK received 48,540 asylum applications from main applicants only. This is 63% more than the previous year and the highest number in almost two decades.

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