The Government’s plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda is “irrational” and “unlawful”, according to campaigners.
Freedom from Torture is one of several organisations threatening to take the Home Office to court over the policy, which will give people deemed to have arrived in the UK illegally a one-way ticket to the east African nation.
Around 100 people have reportedly been told they are at risk of being sent to Rwanda, but the first flights are not thought to be taking place until at least June 6.
In a pre-action letter to the department setting out the grounds for the legal challenge, Freedom from Torture said it was calling into question assertions by ministers and officials that Rwanda is generally a safe country and argued the policy was “unlawful on the basis of apparent pre-determination or bias”.
The charity has also claimed removing asylum seekers to Rwanda is beyond Home Secretary Priti Patel’s legal authority as it “is contrary to the Refugee Convention to enforce such removals where… Rwanda will not uphold the full set of obligations owed under the Convention to those transferred”.
Chief executive Sonya Sceats said it is “immoral in the extreme for the UK to expel torture survivors and other vulnerable asylum seekers who are in need of sanctuary and support”, adding: “We are seeing strong public support for legal action to ensure this Government treats refugees with basic dignity.”
A crowdfunding appeal to cover the costs of the legal challenge has raised nearly £50,000.
Carolin Ott, one of the solicitors at Leigh Day representing the organisation, said: “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.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are fully committed to our Partnership with Rwanda which we are confident is compliant with our international legal obligations and we stand ready to defend any legal challenges robustly.
“Our assessments have found that Rwanda is fundamentally a safe and secure country with a track record of supporting asylum seekers, and the UN Refugee Agency has said that the country has a safe and protective environment for refugees.”
Guidance published by the department said Rwanda is “a safe country to relocate people to”, although an assessment carried out prior to the agreement found “some concerns with its human rights record around political opposition to the current regime, dissent and free speech”.
The department noted that transgender people “may face greater risk of ill-treatment such as arbitrary arrests and detention as well as degrading treatment”, adding “no one will be relocated if it is unsafe or inappropriate”.
There were also “concerns over the treatment of some LGBTQI+ people” in Rwanda, but this did not “amount to persecution or serious harm”, according to documents published by the department.
Foreign Office travel advice for Rwanda states: “Homosexuality is not illegal in Rwanda but remains frowned on by many. LGBT individuals can experience discrimination and abuse, including from local authorities. There are no specific anti-discrimination laws that protect LGBT individuals.”
The UN’s refugee agency the UNHCR has reiterated concerns over the plan, most recently saying: “Financial support abroad for certain refugee crises cannot replace the responsibility of States and the obligation to receive asylum seekers and protect refugees on their own territory – irrespective of race, nationality and mode of arrival.”
Some 9,330 migrants have reached the UK after navigating busy shipping lanes from France in small boats like dinghies since the start of 2022, according to analysis of Government data by the PA news agency.
There were 252 people who made the crossing in seven boats on Monday, Ministry of Defence figures show.
On Tuesday the Home Office said it had flown 16 foreign criminals convicted of supplying drugs and possessing firearms back to Poland.