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Home Office would send just three staff to ‘monitor’ rights of 25,000 in Rwanda

Exclusive: The department currently has only one person in Rwanda, despite stressing ‘monitoring obligations’ in court

Camille Corcoran
6 July 2023, 4.25pm
The Home Office said its staff would work alongside an independent committee of eight experts.

Leon Neal/Getty Images

The Home Office would send a maximum of three staff to Rwanda to monitor the rights of up to 25,000 deported asylum seekers, openDemocracy can reveal.

Currently, only one Home Office employee is based in Kigali, the Rwandan capital, where staff are stationed on short six-month deployments.

Responding to a Freedom of Information request, the government department said there was a “possibility of an additional two roles” in Kigali if the Rwanda scheme, currently held up in the courts, is allowed to go ahead.

The findings raise serious questions about the government’s promises to monitor the rights of those it deports to Rwanda.

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Last week, Conservative MP Laura Farris told the BBC’s Newsnight that “monitoring obligations” were a key part of the government’s legal case for the Rwanda plan. She said these included having Home Office personnel “stationed in Kigali”, as well as “groups from external organisations”.

The Home Office told openDemocracy that its staff would work alongside an independent monitoring committee to ensure a “quality control assessment of conditions” for migrants.

A spokesperson claimed: “Home Office staff in Kigali are there to represent Home Office interests in Rwanda and advance bilateral cooperation in support of Home Office objectives including the Migration and Economic Development Policy (MEDP).”

The revelation comes after the Court of Appeal ruled that the policy is unlawful by a majority of two to one. Delivering the ruling last week, judges said there were “substantial grounds” to believe asylum seekers would be at risk of refoulement – the forcible removal of individuals to countries deemed unsafe – if they were to be sent to Rwanda.

The Rwanda plan, which was first announced in April 2022, would see anyone who has ‘illegally’ entered the UK since 1 January 2022 sent to the central African country to have their asylum claim processed there. More than 24,000 people have been told they are being considered for forcible removal, according to The Guardian.

So far, the UK has paid Rwanda’s government £140m to implement the scheme and has spent an additional £1.3m fighting legal challenges brought against it by charities and asylum seekers.

In June, the British government published an analysis that showed that sending migrants to Rwanda would cost £169,000 per person – around £63,000 more than letting them stay in the UK.

When asked by openDemocracy, the Home Office refused to reveal the responsibilities held by the single staff member currently stationed in Kigali, claiming that to do so would “undermine the integrity of the policymaking process”.

It said: “The department continually monitors and reviews the presence of Home Office staff who are based overseas. In Kigali we expect to continue to deploy one role with the possibility of an additional two roles but will be dependent on ongoing litigation of the MEDP [Migration and Economic Development Policy].”

Meanwhile, the independent monitoring committee that has been hailed by the Home Office has just eight members – four appointed by the UK government and four by the Rwandan government. They include Alexander Downer, the former Australian foreign minister who is now chairman of the right-wing think tank Policy Exchange.

Although the committee is meant to be fully independent, Downer last year appeared in a UK Home Office video promoting the government’s immigration plan. He is also a prominent defender of Australia’s ‘offshore processing’ scheme for asylum seekers, which is similar to the UK government’s Rwanda policy. The Australian scheme has been plagued by controversy, with at least 12 people having died while subject to offshore processing.

‘Wrong on so many levels’

The Rwanda plan, which home secretary Suella Braverman has previously described as her “dream” and “obsession”, forms part of Nationality and Borders Act 2022.

It has been widely criticised by human rights groups and charities for effectively erasing the right to seek asylum in the UK. Campaigners have raised concerns about Rwanda’s chequered human rights record and poor treatment of refugees, both of which were found to be important factors in last week’s court of appeal ruling.

Two out of three judges – Lord Justice Underhill and Sir Geoffery Vos – ruled that asylum seekers would face a “real risk of Article 3 mistreatment” if sent to Rwanda.

Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights states: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

The UN Refugee Agency, the UNHCR, has also repeatedly condemned the Rwanda plan, saying that it “contravenes the UK’s international obligations” and “fails to meet the required standards relating to the legality and appropriateness of transfers of asylum-seekers.”

Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, told openDemocracy: “The government’s Rwanda plan is wrong on so many levels. It has overlooked advice from its own officials that it won’t deter most people from seeking asylum in the UK. It is costing taxpayers millions of pounds. And it is a stain on the British value of fairness – removing the right for people to have a fair hearing on British soil.

“Now we see the reality of the planning behind it. The government says the monitoring of the Rwanda scheme would be a crucial part of it. And yet it seems to only have very limited plans to actively monitor and oversee it. It is time for the government to admit that the Rwanda plan just isn’t the right way forward.”

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