From file: UK Home Secretary Priti Patel signs the agreement with the Rwanda Foreign Affiars Minister Vincent Biruta April 14, 2022  | Photo: Olivier Muhizi / AP / Picture alliance
From file: UK Home Secretary Priti Patel signs the agreement with the Rwanda Foreign Affiars Minister Vincent Biruta April 14, 2022 | Photo: Olivier Muhizi / AP / Picture alliance

The UK government is facing its first legal action against Home Secretary Priti Patel’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda. The plans to outsource the country's asylum obligations have raised serious legal questions and human rights concerns.

A legal action was launched against the UK government last Tuesday, stating that the home secretary’s proposals to outsource the country's asylum processing to Rwanda, run contrary to international law and the UN refugee convention, as well as breaching British data protection law.

The UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) has accused the UK of "inviting" other European countries to adopt the same divisive immigration policy.

The British newspaper, The Guardian reports that the Rwanda plans have been described as a "publicity stunt" by some lawyers in the UK, with the aim to discourage people crossing the Channel in small boats. Patel has been heavily criticized by union leaders for refusing to disclose key framework documents and explaining which migrants may be eligible to be removed.

Inviting European counterparts to follow suit

Acting UNHCR representative to the UK, Larry Bottinick, told the Guardian's sister-paper The Observer that there are concerns that the British are inviting all their European counterparts to take up similar policies. "I can understand from their perspective why they would do that – it would give such deals more perceived legitimacy if others do the same," Bottinick said.

He added that Britain could encourage other countries to take a similar approach because it would reduce the number of refugees who made it to northern France. He warned: "This would increase the pressures on those states neighboring conflict areas which are already hosting the great majority of those seeking refuge." Denmark has already set out plans to outsource elements of its asylum system to Rwanda.

Legal challenges may hinder proposed asylum policy

The action has been launched by the small Nottingham based law firm InstaLaw, which specializes in public and international law, among other areas. The Home Office now has three weeks to respond and the process could see Patel being challenged in the High Court.

In a press release, Stuart Luke, partner at InstaLaw, said their case was based on an Iranian asylum seeker who believes he would face extreme hardship if sent to Rwanda. "He could be the only Iranian in the country, there’s no network there, no community, no one who speaks the language. How’s he going to manage, survive? How’s he going to find a job, get educated?" asked Luke.

Bottinick said in a statement that UNHCR had "serious concerns" over how the Home Office and Rwanda intended to integrate non-African asylum seekers who form the vast majority of arrivals in the UK.

"There will be issues as basic as interpretation for Vietnamese and Albanian speakers. The main arrivals to the UK also include Iranians, Iraqis and Syrians. We have serious concerns about Rwanda's capacity to integrate these groups."

Home Office further delays deportations

Initially the Home Office had given assurances that it would not deport the man at the center of the legal action before May 10 – but on Friday, the department said it was not looking to deport him at all.

When the Rwanda asylum policy was first announced, the government claimed the first deportation flights were to leave by the end of May. However, The Guardian reported that Johnson's spokesperson said the timetable had since been pushed back.

He states, that the plan was to "move ahead with this as soon as possible," however, the government was "not unexpectedly seeing some of these legal challenges, and in a free and democratic society we need to engage with those in the normal way. But we are still planning to move ahead with the flights at the earliest opportunity."

Activists protest against Rwanda refugee plan

The legal move came as activists accused Patel of "racist" and "inhumane" policies regarding the Rwanda asylum plan during an appearance at a Conservative party dinner.

Social media footage shows a woman standing up and shouting: "Priti Patel, your racist policies are killing people. Your plans to send people seeking asylum to Rwanda are inhumane and are going to ruin people’s lives." The woman was booed before being removed from the venue, and subsequently a number of other activists stood up and made further statements.

A Home Office spokesperson told the Observer: "Our partnership with Rwanda fully complies with international and national law. We will defend any legal challenge robustly."


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