Asylum seekers are being rushed towards flights to Rwanda, without proper access to justice
Survivors of torture and trafficking must be able to present their case in a fair and lawful way. That simply isn’t happening
Yesterday, my organisation lost its bid to have an urgent injunction put in place to prevent any flights to Rwanda carrying refugees from leaving the UK, until after a full hearing on whether the policy is lawful next month. Our case is one of two applications brought forward by coalitions of charities and activists Unfortunately, both of these applications have been rejected, which means that flights are due to take off today.
However, we are confident in our view that the way the Rwanda scheme is being implemented is unlawful and unfair. At Asylum Aid, we have over 30 years’ experience providing legal representation to asylum seekers who have experienced some of the worst cases of torture, human trafficking or gender-based violence. Some of our clients are unaccompanied children or stateless people with very complex cases. We also know how many people we unfortunately have to turn away when they ask for our help, and we know what it takes to provide it.
When people have access to legal representation and are able to present their case either to the Home Office or to the courts, the Home Office’s decision to remove them is often withdrawn or overturned. We’ve seen it happen with today’s first flight of removals to Rwanda, where the vast majority of people who received notice of removal have been taken off the list once they had the chance to make their case.
While it has been suggested that this shows due diligence on the part of the Home Office, our experience indicates that it is more likely due to those individuals having good legal representatives putting their cases forward. However, the stark reality is that it is very difficult to access good legal representation and there is not the capacity in our sector to both find and prioritise those potentially earmarked for removal to Rwanda on an ongoing basis. There will eventually be individuals who haven’t managed to obtain legal advice or representation and therefore challenge the Home Office on their decision in their case. Whether on this flight, the next flight or the one after that.
This scheme is unlawful and unfair because it relies on impossible timeframes that do not offer people seeking asylum the opportunity to gain legal advice and representation or say why they shouldn’t be removed. Those given a one-way ticket to Rwanda by the Home Office only have seven days to find legal representation and gather the evidence to respond. Once removal instructions are issued, they only have a further five days to appeal to the courts. This abbreviated access to justice flies in the face of basic principles of fairness and belief in the rule of law that are at the very centre of our legal system.
The impact of removing survivors of torture and trafficking – for this is who is being caught up in this government’s scheme – is significant. It will have a hugely detrimental impact on their mental and physical health. Among the people originally deemed suitable for removal from the UK are a former police officer from Iran who says he refused to shoot peaceful demonstrators and a survivor of torture from Sudan.
This is what lies at the core of our case against the Home Office. The principle that people fleeing dangerous situations, human rights abuses, human trafficking or torture who seek safety in the UK should have the opportunity to present their case in a fair and lawful manner. A principle that has been at the foundation of our justice and asylum system since the second world war and is worth fighting for.
This is why we believe that the best way to protect vulnerable people was for a halt to all removals to Rwanda until the scheme could be reviewed fully by the courts. We will not give up: we will prepare for the final hearing of our case by gathering evidence of how this unfair system is operating in practice and supporting individuals at risk.