We are strongly opposed to the Government’s shameful plans to transfer certain people seeking asylum in the UK to Rwanda, where their claims will be assessed under Rwandan asylum and immigration law.
The Government’s plan to pay for the outsourcing of our asylum and protection obligations is irresponsible, inhumane, and undermines the very foundation of the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol. Not only is the Government failing to heed warnings to avoid replication of the dehumanisation caused by Australia’s “offshore processing” in Papua New Guinea and Nauru, it is also seeking to restrict access to the UK’s asylum and legal system. Rather than being offered protection here, people seeking asylum will be sent out of sight and out of mind: the pinnacle of avoidance of accountability and evasion of international obligations.
Most refugees have no ‘bespoke’ safe route to this country, and can only resort to perilous journeys to reach the UK. This policy will do nothing to alter the strongest reasons for people undertaking dangerous journeys to seek asylum here, including familial, linguistic, and historical ties to this country, in the absence of safe routes. It also will not address the underlying factors that cause people to flee. Indeed, Permanent Secretary Matthew Rycroft CBE, the most senior civil servant in the Home Office, raised an objection to the spending proposal, noting the lack of sufficient evidence of the policy’s deterrent effect, in his letter to the Home Secretary: ‘Value for money of the policy is dependent on it being effective as a deterrent. Evidence of a deterrent effect is highly uncertain and cannot be quantified with sufficient certainty to provide me with the necessary level of assurance over value for money.’1 The Home Secretary has, therefore, issued a ministerial direction to proceed with the proposal.
What is certain is that people who arrived irregularly in the UK from 1 January 2022, and are seeking asylum here, as is their right under the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, now face a terrifying threat of being removed to a far-away nation with which they may have no prior connection. We are also particularly concerned about the discriminatory implications of this policy and its potentially disproportionate impact on racialised and vulnerable people. It can be juxtaposed with recent schemes introduced by the Government that have provided pathways to safety for Ukrainians. Equally, we are concerned that people seeking asylum who are vulnerable and identify as LGBTQI+ could be subject to removal to Rwanda under this policy.
We fundamentally object to this commodification of protection obligations. The British taxpayer is being asked to underwrite the significant and uncertain costs of sending refugees away indefinitely enabling the UK to eschew its responsibilities. ILPA echoes the view of UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Gillian Triggs, that ‘[p]eople fleeing war, conflict and persecution deserve compassion and empathy. They should not be traded like commodities and transferred abroad for processing.’2
The Government has a record of failing to ensure there is safe and lawful treatment of people seeking asylum in the UK, and nothing within its proposals instills confidence that this record will not be repeated in these arrangements. Only last year, the High Court heard evidence of the deterioration in mental health of men seeking asylum housed in Napier Barracks in Kent, and ruled that there had been inadequate accommodation, unlawful detention, and insufficient safeguards to ensure that vulnerable men were not sent to Napier.3 A public inquiry into mistreatment of individuals held in Brook House Immigration Removal Centre is ongoing.4 While in the not too distant past, the Court of Appeal found the Government’s Detained Fast Track system to be unlawful.5
The Government is not above the law, which legal practitioners, including ILPA Members, act to uphold. ILPA will be undertaking a project of work to scrutinise the Government’s plans by examining the legal implications of these arrangements and considering them through the lens of racial justice and equality.
1.Matthew Rycroft CBE, ‘Letter from Matthew Rycroft to Rt Hon Priti Patel’ (13 April 2022) <https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/migration-and-economic-development-partnership-ministerial-direction/letter-from-matthew-rycroft-to-rt-hon-priti-patel-accessible> accessed 22 April 2022.
2.UNHCR UK, ‘UN Refugee Agency opposes UK plan to export asylum’ (14 April 2022) <https://www.unhcr.org/uk/news/press/2022/4/625857a94/un-refugee-agency-opposes-uk-plan-to-export-asylum.html> accessed 22 April 2022.
3.R (NB & Ors) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWHC 1489 (Admin).
4.Brook House Inquiry, ‘A public inquiry into the mistreatment of individuals who were detained at Brook House Immigration Removal Centre in 2017’ <https://brookhouseinquiry.org.uk/> accessed 22 April 2022.
5.Lord Chancellor v Detention Action  EWCA Civ 840;  WLR 5341.