Home Secretary Priti Patel and Minister Biruta sign the migration and economic development partnership between the UK and Rwanda. Image: UK Home Office/Flickr
Charities are fundraising to support a legal challenge against the government over its plans to ship refugees to Rwanda.
In April, the UK government announced plans to offshore some asylum seekers to the African country. Boris Johnson said it was a way of saving hundreds of people from trafficking, with those arriving by small boat across the Channel flown with a one-way ticket to Rwanda. He said the agreement set “a new international standard in addressing the challenges of global migration and people smuggling.”
Campaigners were quick to slam the plans, labelling them unethical. Many questioned the legality and pointed out that arbitrary detention, torture, degrading treatment, and political imprisonment have been widely reported in the country.
Marley Morris, associate director for migration, trade and communities at think tank IPPR, called the scheme “unethical, unsustainable, and likely to come at a huge cost to the UK taxpayer.”
Now, the fightback has begun. Charity Freedom from Torture became the first to launch a crowdfunder to take legal action against the government. It follows its successful legal challenge of Priti Patel’s pushback policy, which put a stop to the home secretary’s policy to forcibly send small boats crossing the Channel back to France.
Its crowdfunder states: “Despite outcry from experts and people all over the UK, we believe that this government will send torture survivors to Rwanda as part of this scheme, and that this will raise serious human rights concerns, even if they introduce safeguards.
“We know legal action works, because we took the government to court over their plans to push back refugee boats in the Channel – and earlier this week, we found out we won. The government backed down. We shouldn’t have to resort to legal action for this government to treat refugees with basic human dignity – but here we are again.”
The crowdfunder smashed its original target within days, and a new target of £50,000 has been set with 24 days remaining.
The charity is working with Leigh Day solicitors, and a preliminary letter has been sent to the Home Office, requesting full details of the policy. The pre-action letter is expected to lead to a judicial review claim, with Leigh Day stating that Freedom from Torture “has serious concerns about the lawfulness of the policy”.
Sile Reynolds, head of asylum advocacy at Freedom from Torture, told The Big Issue: “The outpouring of compassion for those fleeing Ukraine and Afghanistan has shown that the public wants to welcome people seeking safety to this country. But instead, this government is planning to ship our refugees to Rwanda despite being repeatedly warned that this plan is unlawful. We shouldn’t have to resort to legal action for this government to treat refugees with basic human dignity – but here we are again.
“This cruel trade in human lives is not only deeply immoral and disturbing, it would also deny torture survivors and others access to vital trauma services like those provided by Freedom from Torture.”
Care4Calais, the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) and Detention Action have also initiated a joint legal challenge, with Care4Calais condemning the impact of the plans on both sides of the Channel.
It has so far raised £28,170, out of a £40,000 stretch target from 946 pledges, and is challenging the government’s lack of transparency, and the way in which the plan will unlawfully penalise refugees based on their irregular entry.
In a statement, the PCS said: “We are challenging the home secretary’s failure to disclose the criteria dictating who will be transferred by force to East Africa, arguing that this is an unlawful breach of her duty of transparency and the wider constitutional right of access to justice.”
A snapshot survey of more than 60 asylum seekers in Calais and Dunkirk, carried out by Care4Calais – which provides practical support to asylum seekers in both northern France and across the UK – revealed that three-quarters would not be deterred by the Rwanda Plan, and would still try and make the journey.