The Foreign Office told then Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab that the UK should be prepared to “constrain” its position on Rwanda’s human rights record if the country was singled out in government policy to deport some asylum seekers, the High Court was told.
Several asylum seekers, the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union and the charities Care4Calais, Detention Action and Asylum Aid are taking legal action against the Home Office’s plan to provide one-way tickets to the country from East Africa.
In written submissions filed for a preliminary hearing on Tuesday on behalf of the groups and eight individuals, Raza Husain QC said newly provided documents showed that Rwanda was initially excluded from the shortlist of potential countries “for rights reasons. of man”.
Documents provided earlier this month also include several memos and internal communications from the Home Office and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).
In written submissions, Mr Husain said that in March 2021, Foreign Office officials told then Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab in a memo that if Rwanda was selected for the political “we should be prepared to restrain UK positions on Rwanda’s human rights record, and to absorb the resulting criticism from the UK Parliament and NGOs”.
An April 2021 memo from the Foreign Office, also referred to in the written submissions, added that “human rights concerns…could potentially pose significant challenges under Article 3,” concerning the right not to be subjected to torture or degrading treatment.
In a separate memo, Foreign Office officials said they had advised Downing Street against engaging with a number of countries, including Rwanda.
Mr Husain continued: “On May 20, 2021, a note from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs indicated that it ‘continued(d) to advise against No10’s engagement’ with Rwanda and several other countries, and identified that ‘ in most cases, any agreement with these states would require us to relax the legal criteria… which require, among other things, that a country has a functioning asylum system that complies with the obligations of the Refugee Convention”.
They added that an internal email six days later said the Foreign Secretary had said: ‘The question for review should be whether, with financial support, the host country could bring itself up to standard of the ECHR, not British standards”.
The lawyer also said that the British High Commissioner to Rwanda had indicated last year that the East African country should not be used as an option for politics for several reasons, including that it ” was accused of recruiting refugees to carry out armed operations in neighboring countries”. ”.
A Home Office memo from March 2022 showed the ministry was reluctant to engage with the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, Mr Husain argued.
The memo read: “Engaging with UNHCR gives them more time to organize their campaign against these measures when they are announced.”
He later said that another official note, dated April 12, 2022, the day before the signing of the UK-Rwanda Memorandum of Understanding, stated that “the risk of fraud is very high” and that ‘there is “limited evidence as to whether these proposals will be a sufficient deterrent to those seeking to enter the UK illegally”.
Clare Moseley, Founder of Care4Calais, said: “This revelation is shocking but not surprising. Our point of view has always been that the Rwandan policy will not be a deterrent.
Paul O’Connor, Head of Negotiations at PCS, said: “The revelations from today’s hearing are extraordinary.
“They paint a picture of a home secretary desperate to push through this policy, even in the face of serious reservations from senior ministry officials.”
Tuesday’s preliminary hearing largely covered the timing of the main policy challenge.
Rory Dunlop QC, for the Home Office, argued the trial should start in September and last five days.
He said in written comments: “The Secretary of State’s aim is to deter asylum seekers from making unsafe and unnecessary journeys from safe third countries to the UK, for example across the English Channel. by small boat or by entering clandestinely by truck”.
The lawyer continued: “There is a strong public interest in listing this case quickly.
“A postponement beyond September 5, 2022 would be contrary to the strong public interest in allowing the government to implement a policy aimed at deterring illegal, unnecessary and dangerous travel… A postponement until October or November can be particularly harmful to public interest because, judging by the 2021 data, September and November 2021 were the two months with the highest number of people crossing in small boats.
The hearing before Lord Justice Lewis and Mr Justice Swift is due to end on Tuesday afternoon.