NGOs urge the newly elected Prime Minister to change course on refugee rights, as Home Secretary resigns leaving an “unparalleled record of failure”. Significant evidence and testimonies put Rwanda’s outsourcing policy into question amid High Court juridical review. Meanwhile, despite deterrence efforts arrivals across the channel continue.

On 5 September ECRE member the Refugee Council ‘welcomed’ the new head of government by stating: “As Liz Truss is elected as the new Prime Minister, we urge her to address what are major failings within an asylum system that is in desperate need of reform, and to ensure that we alleviate the untold human suffering it causes, which in turn will help save the Government money”. Remarks that were seconded by another ECRE member, the Scottish Refugee Council. Meanwhile, the public face of the controversial British asylum policies, Home Secretary Priti Patel has resigned leaving what Free Movement, defines as an “unparalleled record of failure”. Patel has been replaced by Suella Braverman. Reportedly, Liz Truss has stopped plans to enact a new bill of rights giving legal supremacy to the UK supreme court and making it explicit that UK courts can disregard rulings from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). According to the Guardian: “The sudden disappearance of the bill will raise questions over how the government intends to proceed with its Rwanda deportation policy, which is in limbo after the European court of human rights (ECHR) issued last-minute injunctions to prevent asylum seekers being sent there”.

Meanwhile, the High Court started its juridical review of the legality of the outsourcing policy on 5 September accompanied by protests across the UK and amid renewed critique and revelations. Just days prior to the High Court hearing, testimonies from security officers involved in the failed deportation flight in June revealed self-harm and desperation among asylum seekers forced onto the plane. On the first day of the hearing, documents filed by the lawyers representing asylum seekers threatened by deportation alongside Care4Calais, Detention Action and the Public and Commercial Services Union revealed that Rwanda was not among the seven nations recommended by the Foreign Office as potential partners in February 2021. Rather, the African nation appeared on a list of “14 countries presenting substantial issues in relation to asylum systems and human rights and/or political negotiability”. Rwanda was chosen only after direct political intervention including by former PM Boris Johnson and former Home Secretary Priti Patel. Further, an additional £20m was added to the previously announced £120m in economic development funding for the country.

Evidence submitted to the High Court defines the government of Rwanda as an “authoritarian” regime which “tortures and murders” its opponents and points to incidents of forced recruitment of refugees to serve in armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. An investigation by the Byline Intelligence Team released on 7 September revealed: “A killing of a 13th refugee and the injuring of a child refugee by Rwandan police during protests at Kiziba camp in 2018”. 12 other refugees were reported killed on 20 February that year. The investigation further points to the lack of legal avenues for the UK government in cases of mistreatment or abuse of deportees and notes that: “a monitoring committee designed to oversee the treatment of deportees” was not established before the first attempted deportation flight was due to take off in June. On 2 September, the UK government announced “the appointment of a new panel consisting of eight experts to provide independent oversight of the Migration and Economic Development Partnership between the UK and Rwanda”. While the mechanism is defined as “independent” all members are appointed by the respective governments. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reiterated its earlier severe critique of the plan stating Rwanda: “lacks irreducible minimum components of an accessible, reliable, fair and efficient asylum system”. The agency further pointed to the inherent risk of the “burden-shifting arrangement” leading to refoulement in violation of the Refugee Convention and called it: “incompatible with UK’s fundamental obligations”. Lawyers representing the Home Office before the High Court have insisted that the Home Secretary has the legal “power” to certify that a country is safe for someone seeking asylum without needing approval by Parliament. Further, stating that the UK is under “no obligation” and had “no duty” to assess an asylum claim if choosing to deport a person to a safe third country.

Just before resigning former Home Secretary, Priti Patel was reportedly considering the introduction of the notorious pushback policy against small boats crossing the Channel that was axed in April after severe critique. The deterrence effect of the outsourcing deal with Rwanda is less than evident with arrivals across the channel continuing. More than 25,000 have arrived in 2022 by the beginning of September and 3,733 people crossed the Channel over the last week of August – twice the total for all of 2019. According to the Ministry of Defence, more than 2,000 migrants crossed the Channel on 3-4 September and nearly 300 people were rescued on the French side of the channel.

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This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.