• A new scheme is planned to pay ‘failed’ asylum seekers and foreign criminals to move to Rwanda amid ongoing legal and content challenges.
  • The Home Office has revealed that it does not inform the loved ones of deceased asylum seekers in its care in order to avoid “endangering their mental health”.
  • Children have been kept in shipping containers as isolation measures against a contagious bacterial infection.
  • The Home Office is facing growing scrutiny over reports concerning the state of asylum accommodation in the country
  • A Palestinian refugee has won a biometrics battle for his family while human rights organisations are demanding justice for Ibrahima Bah.

The Home Office is trying to implement a scheme under which rejected asylum seekers would be paid £3000 to be deported to Rwanda amidst ongoing legal battles, concerns and debates questioning its legality. The scheme will also be opened up to other people with no right to remain in the UK, and foreign criminals. Responding to this development in UK-Rwanda relations, Labour’s shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock said: “Even government ministers are finally recognising that their Rwanda scheme has no chance of succeeding, so they’re resorting to paying people to go there instead”. Reports of asylum seekers being called and offered money to go to Rwanda are already circulating. Migrants Organise reported that they had received news that the Home Office is calling people to offer so-called “voluntary” departure to Rwanda. In an X post by Care4Calais, “A choice between relocation to a country the UK Supreme Court has unanimously decided is unsafe or living with limited rights, destitution and exclusion from socio-economic prospects is no choice at all”. The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatović recently underlined that the Rwanda bill would “not only prevent redress for the most serious human rights violations, but by specifically excluding asylum seekers from access to justice, it will also negate the principle of equality before the law”. However, a Home Office spokesman said that the so-called “voluntary” returns were “an important part of our efforts to tackle illegal migration”. Prior to this development, the House of Lords had made ten changes to the Rwanda bill, including ensuring that it would comply with the rule of law and that the UK parliament could not declare Rwanda to be safe until the treaty that governs removals to the east African country is implemented. Enver Solomon, CEO of ECRE member organisation the Refugee Council, wrote in a recent op-ed that: “The bill will return to the Commons in less than two weeks – and the government will certainly reject all the Lords amendments”. He added that behind “a period of parliamentary ping-pong with the Commons,” which is expected to pass by the end of the month,” there are tens of thousands who will be left in limbo and who will be denied their basic rights.

The Information Commissioner’s Office has ordered the Home Office to release information concerning at least five people who died in its asylum centres in the first six months of 2023 by 4 April. This outcome comes after a four-month investigation initiated by the Civil Fleet’s Freedom of Information Request in July 2023 regarding the number of asylum seekers who had died in Home Office accommodation between 1 January and 30 June 2023, the causes and locations of each death, as well as their ages, nationalities and gender. While the Home Office answered the first question in full, the second question remains unanswered. According to its data, suicide was listed as the cause of death for one of the deceased while the rest of the deaths were listed as “cause to be confirmed”. “With a substantial rise in fatalities in the asylum system already identified, a bare minimum response would have been to record and assess the number and circumstances of these deaths,” Steve Valdez-Symonds from Amnesty International UK told the Civil Fleet. Prior to this ruling, the Home Office said that it did not generally inform family members when asylum seekers died in its care and that it did not want to disclose details of the deaths publicly in case it upsets those family members and  ‘endangers their mental health’. Commenting on the Home Office’s statement, Freedom from Torture said: “This government must urgently take steps to make sure that survivors and refugees are housed in decent homes within our communities”. “It’s been three years since the current asylum policy of refusing to take responsibility for tens of thousands of people’s claims began, but the government still appears to have nothing in place to monitor the true impact of this dire policy,” Valdez-Symonds told the Civil Fleet.

More criticism of refugee accommodation was reported by the Times after plans to isolate sick migrant children in shipping containers were uncovered. The shipping containers were reported to be about two metres by 1.5 metres, with no windows or toilet. The container has been in use after two teenagers were found to have diphtheria in recent months. “The isolation areas we saw on this visit are truly shocking and completely unsuitable … I have repeatedly warned about the need to invest in more appropriate accommodation for children arriving in this country because, without this, we are in danger of repeating the problems of the past,” said England’s Children’s Commissioner, Dame Rachel de Souza. A spokesman from the Home Office justified these reports saying that the containers were never meant for accommodation and added: “The safety and welfare of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children is our utmost priority and providing care placements for them is a national issue that requires participation from local authorities across the UK”. Meanwhile, the government is facing more scrutiny after impact assessment reports were removed from the Home Office’s official website. These reports had previously highlighted the discriminatory nature of housing immigrants on barges, adding to the pressure on the government’s management of immigration policy.

A recent report by the food and farming NGO Sustain has revealed serious concerns about the food provided to asylum seekers in catered accommodation. The report showed evidence of poor food safety and lack of provision for people with medical conditions and allergies, in some cases leading to hospitalisation. Asylum seekers said that they knew that the Home Office contractors were making profits out of providing poor food for them. “We are the holy cash cow,” one of them told the Guardian. Some Muslim mothers reported being asked to “swear on your child’s life” that they were fasting during Ramadan before they were allowed to receive iftar, the fast-breaking evening meal. Some asylum seekers reported that not only were their allergies and health conditions ignored but rotten and expired food was also served to them. The director of the Jesuit Refugee Service UK, Sarah Teather, said: “This report lays bare the horrifying impact of food insecurity for people in the asylum system: children going to bed crying in hunger, people becoming ill because of the only food they can eat, a daily struggle to make ends meet. These are ultimately the result of a deliberate policy to force people seeking asylum to live in poverty”.

In the courts, a Palestinian refugee has won a legal battle against the Home Office for refusing to allow his family in Gaza to apply for UK visas without being fingerprinted. The man acted after officials rejected his request to exempt his wife and children from the usual requirements because of the situation in Gaza. The ruling by the Upper Tribunal Immigration and Asylum Court, reported by the BBC, found that the Home Office’s reluctance to exempt the family from giving fingerprints was  ‘disproportionate’ given their ‘particular circumstances’. The judgement also highlighted that the Home Office’s decision breached Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)  (the right to respect for private and family life). In a separate case, a 24-year-old Palestinian citizen of Israel is to be granted asylum on the basis that he has a well-founded fear of persecution if returned to Israel. The case could have widespread ramifications for other Palestinians who claim asylum in the UK and elsewhere. In another case, the precedent set by the nine-year sentence that was imposed on the  Senegalese asylum seeker Ibrahima Bah has raised concerns amongst lawyers and human rights organisations. The conviction “demonstrates a violent escalation in the prosecution of people for the way in which they arrive in the UK,” wrote Humans for Rights Network and Refugee Legal Support in a joint statement. “The use of manslaughter in these circumstances is completely novel and demonstrates how pernicious the new laws are. It is the most vulnerable who end up piloting the boats and asylum seekers have no knowledge that the law has changed,” said one of the lawyers. The Captain Support network has launched a campaign calling out the “miscarriage of justice” saying: “the real responsibility for the deaths lies with the government whose violent border policies leave people like Ibrahima no other route but one which puts their lives in danger”. The campaigners have called on the Home Secretary to bring an immediate end to the criminalisation of migrants crossing the Channel, to quash accusations against all those prosecuted for immigration offences and to release Ibrahima Bah.

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