Detained asylum seekers given Home Office booklet saying Rwanda is ‘generally safe’

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Asylum seekers who have been detained under Rishi Sunak’s deportation policy are being handed a colourful promotional document entitled: “I’m being relocated to Rwanda. What does it mean to me?”

The news came as the government faced a second legal challenge over the prime minister’s £500m policy and it emerged that dozens of asylum seekers were being forcibly taken to detention centres.

The 17-page Home Office booklet promises detainees they will be flown to “the land of a thousand hills” that has “a wide array of wildlife”.

Alongside a display of photos of lush valleys, Kigali’s financial district, and Hope hostel, the accommodation reserved for asylum seekers from the UK, the text of the booklet asks the question: “Is Rwanda safe?”

It answers: “Rwanda is a generally safe and secure country with a track record of supporting asylum seekers.” There is no mention of an incident in February 2018 when Congolese refugees were killed in clashes with Rwandan security forces.

The document goes on to say: “If you feel that Rwanda is not safe for you personally, you must notify us immediately in writing or in person and explain why.” Further on, it lists emergency numbers for the police, the fire brigade and for traffic incidents.

There is no mention of the UK supreme court ruling in November that found there were substantial grounds for believing asylum seekers sent to Rwanda faced a real risk of having their claims wrongly assessed or being returned to their country of origin to face persecution.

Once in Rwanda, each detainee will be granted refugee status, humanitarian protection or permanent residence, or will be “supported to return home”, the booklet says.

Despite promises of a warm welcome and protection by the Rwandan government, a Home Office disclaimer in the document says: “This information is provided as a general guide and may be subject to change at any time with little or no notice.”

More details have emerged about the people being targeted by the government’s plans. According to the charity Care4Calais, more than 100 people have been detained in the UK, about a fifth of whom came from Syria and slightly fewer from Afghanistan. Other nationalities included Eritrean, Iranian, Iraqi, Kuwaiti, Sri Lankan and Sudanese. At least four women were being held, according to sources.

The charity Asylum Aid is launching legal action against the Home Office over the Rwanda policy. Lawyers acting on its behalf have sent a pre-action letter to the department saying the policy is inconsistent with the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Act, which became law last week.

Asylum Aid says it is concerned the policy could lead to the Home Office unlawfully preventing people seeking asylum from entering the asylum system, and that the alleged inconsistency could lead to the Home Office refusing to consider evidence of individual risk.

The charity’s executive director, Alison Pickup, said: “The government has made clear that it is determined to act quickly as we have already seen the Home Office carrying out forcible detentions.

“The panic this causes is made worse by the limited capacity to provide high-quality legal representation in the legal aid and charity sector. We have brought forward this legal action to ensure that the Home Office properly considers any individual cases against removal to Rwanda.”

Meanwhile, a judge has said the FDA union’s high court challenge over the Safety of Rwanda Act will be heard in the first week of June.

The union, which represents senior civil servants, previously said it was bringing legal action because its members could be asked by a home secretary to ignore a court order from the European court of human rights stopping a flight to Rwanda, which could in turn breach the civil service code.

In an order on Friday, Mr Justice Chamberlain said the case would be heard in one day, to be listed between 4 and 7 June, at the Royal Courts of Justice. He said the legal action was being brought against the Cabinet Office, with the Home Office listed as an interested party.

Sophie Cartwright, the senior policy officer from the refugee organisation JRS UK, said of the document: “This is a pathetic attempt to repackage a flagrant violation of people’s human rights and the dismantling of the UK’s asylum system.

“The Home Office’s portrayal could not be more of a contrast to the fear and suffering that people are experiencing because of this appalling cash-for-humans scheme.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Under the treaty, relocated individuals are free to return to their country of origin. As the prime minister has set out, we will get flights off the ground to Rwanda in the next nine to 11 weeks.”


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