The same judges, who ruled that the Rwanda policy is lawful, granted permission to asylum seekers and one charity to appeal the ruling, while the Home Office expresses readiness to defend the unworkable policy at any appeal hearings. The UK government seeks to ‘fix’ its “broken” asylum system by introducing plans to declare more channel arrivals “inadmissible”, x-ray child migrants and insert GPS tracking devices on asylum seekers for 24/7 surveillance. The NGO, Freedom from Torture has rejected Home Office requests to take down the widely-spread one-minute-long clip of an exchange between Suella Braverman and a Holocaust survivor on the dehumanising rhetoric on asylum seekers.
The Court of Appeal granted permission to asylum seekers and one charity – Asylum Aid – to appeal and challenge the High Court’s finding that the controversial Rwanda externalisation scheme is lawful. In the upcoming appeal hearing, the Court will consider arguments including whether the plan amounts to an unlawful penalty under the Refugee Convention, if asylum seekers are given a fair opportunity to resist deportation and whether commitments on their treatment made by the Rwandan government can be relied upon. “It’s very hard to see how it can be fair for the Home Office to decide to send hundreds, if not thousands, of asylum seekers to Rwanda without any of them having a right to argue that it’s not a safe place,” said Alison Pickup, director of Asylum Aid – the only charity permitted to appeal the ruling. The other organisations that were challenging the government’s Rwanda policy over the last months, including the PCS union and the charities Care4Calais and Detention Action, communicated that they are pleased that individuals are allowed to appeal, yet disappointed for being denied the chance to challenge the court’s decision. Both charities are currently discussing the option of seeking permission directly from the Court of Appeal to “oppose this unjust, inhuman & unworkable policy” and “ensure that no person who has suffered the horrors of war, torture and human rights abuses will be forcibly deported to Rwanda where their safety cannot be guaranteed”. Meanwhile, Rwandan President Paul Kagame delivered a stark warning to refugees fleeing renewed violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo: “We cannot keep being host to refugees for which, later on, we are held accountable in some way, or even abused about”. Human Rights Watch communicated that the president’s statement illustrates “politicisation of refugees’ rights” and “refusal to take responsibility and ensure accountability for abuses committed by Rwanda’s security forces, including against refugees”, adding: “Kagame’s latest attacks on human rights, this time refugee rights, just adds to the mounting evidence that Rwanda is not a reliable good faith international partner, and that the UK’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda is based on falsehoods and cynical politics”. Despite these critiques, Home Secretary Suella Braverman, whose declared dream is to see a flight deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda, continues to be committed to making the unworkable partnership work and urged the court’s judges to only allow an appeal on issues that “were genuinely compelling”. Home Office Spokesperson also said that they are ready to defend this policy at any appeal hearings”. Meanwhile, UK asylum seekers live in fear of deportation to Rwanda. “Every day I wait for new day and new life. But it doesn’t come… For refugees, there is no future”, says Hayat, a 23-year-old Eritrean woman who travelled through different countries to arrive in the UK.
The UK government is fixing its “broken” asylum system by introducing new or keeping old cruel measures. First, Ministers are considering making changes to immigration law to make it easier to declare migrants who cross the Channel in small boats permanently “inadmissible” to the asylum system. These changes, expected to be part of the legislation next month, are proposed to meet Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s pledge prevent access for all people who arrive in the UK irregularly. This despite the country’s need for around 330,000 workers to fill the labour post-Brexit shortage. At the moment, the Home Office can classify asylum seekers as inadmissible only if there is an agreement with another country to which they can be removed but the proposals would take away such requirements. Secondly, Braverman plans to x-ray children to settle age disputes amid threats from NHS to boycott the idea to avoid adding additional pressure on a system already “at breaking point”. Clare Moseley from charity Care4Calais said: “we know it (age assessment tests) causes them great anxiety and severely impacts on their mental health. The government should listen to radiographers and the other medical experts who have spoken out on this plan and ditch it now”. However, a Home Office Spokesman claims that reforms are made to these tests because the wellbeing of children in their care is an “absolute priority”. Thirdly, Home Office and the Ministry of Justice asked potential deportees to scan their fingerprints several times a day using GPS tracking which are replacing the ankle tags in a further “step in building the total surveillance of migrants.” Asylum seekers carrying such devices will be subject to 24/7 location tracking, with information including an individual’s name, date of birth and nationality stored on the device and shared with the government, police and other authorities. Annie Viswanathan, the Bid director, said: “Our research has shown this (GPS tracking technology) leads to further social isolation and stigma for an already marginalised group, and represents an extension of immigration detention outside of the physical walls of a detention centre”. Meanwhile a Home Office Spokesperson denies the research’s findings, adding that a decision to insert GPS devices is “taken on a case-by-case basis”. Meanwhile, the asylum backlog remains unresolved with almost 13,000 asylum seekers having spent over 10 years waiting for their claims to be resolved and 60,290 whose cases have been ongoing for more than three years. Furthermore, British Channel rescue services have been accused of abandoning 38 people in distress in a dinghy in UK waters, putting their lives in grave danger. French coastguards claim UK services told them they would begin a rescue effort but then failed to do so, allowing them to drift back into the French part of the Channel and putting their lives in danger.
Holocaust survivor Joan Salter confronted Braverman over rhetoric against asylum seekers by comparing the Home Secretary’s language towards asylum-seekers to Nazi rhetoric against Jews during a public meeting in Fareham. Salter said that hearing the Home Secretary “describe refugees as ‘swarms’ and an ‘invasion’” reminded her “of the language used to dehumanise and justify the murder of my family and millions of others”. But Braverman responded that she will “not shy away from saying we have a problem of people exploiting [the UK’s] generosity, breaking our laws and undermining our system”. Afterwards, NGO Freedom from Torture posted a minute-long clip of Suella Braverman’s exchange with Salter, and rejected Home Office requests to take it down claiming it “misrepresents the interaction”. According to a Home Office Spokesperson, “The home secretary listened carefully to the testimony. She thanked her for sharing her story. The home secretary also expressed her sympathy and set out why it is important to tackle illegal migration”. Afterwards, Salter in an op-ed wrote: “Ms Braverman, stop your dangerous rhetoric and find other solutions, or history will not forgive you – and the ordinary people who have swallowed your words will eventually regret it”.
Meanwhile, a new report reveals details about the Home Office’s deportation broker, Air Partner, which is responsible for the chartering of aircraft and crew to carry out the deportations and a key part of Carlson Wagonlit Travel that holds £5.7 million, seven-year contract with the Home Office for the “provision of travel services for immigration purposes”. Air Partner is assigned to find airlines to carry out deportation flights to Rwanda and is currently one of four beneficiaries of a €15 million framework contract to arrange charter deportations for the European Coast Guard and Border Agency, Frontex. Moreover, the charter airline previously organised deportation logistics for the US and several European governments.
For further information:
- ECRE, https://ecre.org/uk-renewed-critique-of-failed-policies-doubtful-efforts-to-fix-broken-asylum-system-and-clear-chaotic-backlog-uk-france-deal-doomed-to-fail-uni/, December 2022
- ECRE, UK: Braverman Denounced for Welcoming a Report Calling for a Crackdown on Asylum Seekers, Albanian Children Go Missing Amid UK-Albania Negotiation to Return Asylum Seekers to “safe” Albania, Reports of Inhumane Conditions in Reception Facilities Continue Emerging, No Afghans Resettled to UK Despite Promises, December 2022
This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.