Government officials warned Priti Patel not to go ahead with a plan to send refugees to Rwanda, new court documents have revealed.
The papers, sent to lawyers acting for asylum seekers who are campaigning against the policy, reveal that the UK’s High Commissioner to Rwanda warned against the proposal as the country “has been accused of recruiting refugees to conduct armed operations in neighbouring countries”.
Rwanda was initially excluded from the shortlist of potential partner countries for the home office’s proposed immigration policy on human rights grounds, according to the documents which were presented to a High Court hearing on Tuesday.
They also reveal that on 10 February 2021, the UK High Commissioner to Rwanda indicated that the country “should not be pursued as an option for the planned migration policy”.
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The reasons given for this include that Rwanda “has been accused of recruiting refugees to conduct armed operations in neighbouring countries” and has a “poor human rights record”.
The documents show that on 18 February 2021, Rwanda was identified as one of 14 countries “assessed as presenting substantial issues in relation to asylum systems and human rights and/or political negotiability”.
The recommendation again was not to pursue Rwanda as an option.
The Rwanda asylum plan, announced by the government back in April, intends to send some asylum seekers who cross the Channel to the UK to Rwanda to claim asylum there instead.
The government says the plan will deter others from dangerous channel crossings.
Official government guidance, published after the deal was originally announced in April, found that Rwanda was a safe country.
However, the previously redacted home office papers show that the day before Ms Patel signed the Rwanda deal an internal memo warned “fraud risk is very high”.
The new documents also show that, in a home office memo from 6 May 2022, the department had “shared the last draft of the country policy” with the government in Rwanda which had “flagged a number of points and concerns on the evidence base in relation to human rights in Rwanda”.
The memo says the complaint was “worked through”, suggesting that the supposedly independent assessment of Rwanda’s safety was passed to Rwanda’s government for comment and amended before publication.
In response to the court document revelations, Clare Moseley, founder of Care4Calais, said it is “shocking but not surprising”.
“Our view has always been that the Rwanda policy will not work as a deterrent,” she said.
“The home secretary has a complete disregard for the lives of people who have already experienced unimaginable trauma and is willing to risk the UK being responsible for human rights violations in order to force this policy through.
“Britain deserves better. The British public deserve immigration policies that put people first and actually work.”
Meanwhile, PCS, who have brought the legal challenge against Ms Patel’s plan to send UK asylum seekers to Rwanda, escribed the findings as “extraordinary” and “a breath-taking disclosure”.
Paul O’Connor, head of bargaining at PCS, said: “They paint a picture of a home secretary desperate to railroad this policy through even in the face of serious reservations being raised by senior departmental officials.
“The documents before the court indicate that the home secretary is well aware of human rights violations in Rwanda.
“They also indicate that the government is prepared to dampen down its criticisms of those violations in order to preserve this policy.”
Calling once more for the government to abandon the policy, he continued: “These revelations clearly vindicate PCS’s decision to bring these proceedings on behalf of our members and refugees.”
The first flight scheduled to take asylum seekers to Rwanda was grounded last month due to legal challenges.
‘No clear evidence’ policy will deter migrants
The government has not ruled out leaving Europe’s human rights framework after the last-ditch legal rulings.
Meanwhile, on Monday, a group of MPs found that the government’s plan to send migrants to Rwanda “appears to have gone unnoticed” by those attempting to cross the English Channel and there is “no clear evidence” it will work.
The Commons Home Affairs Committee said in its report: “Much more clarity is required on the new plan to relocate some migrants from the UK to Rwanda. There is no clear evidence that the policy will deter migrant crossings.”
Last week, Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin has described the Rwanda deportation policy as “shocking” and “wrong”.
More than 14,000 migrants have made the 20-mile journey so far this year, provisional figures show. The total for 2022 could be as high as 60,000.
The home office has been contacted for comment.