The civil service’s biggest union has launched a High Court challenge to the government’s plans to dispatch some asylum seekers who arrive in the UK on one-way tickets to Rwanda for their claims to be “processed”.
PCS says officials at the Home Office need to understand the legal basis for the proposed policy they are expected to implement and that home secretary Priti Patel has failed to provide answers.
The union, which is part of a joint action with charities Detention Action and Care4Calais, said central elements of the claim were the lack of an explanation for which categories of asylum seeker will be sent to Rwanda and the extent to which the policy contravenes the UN Refugee Convention.
Patel announced the Rwanda plans hours before the start of the Easter Bank Holiday weekend as part of a £120m “migration and economic development partnership” with the east African nation. She said the move was aimed at breaking the cross-Channel people-smuggling trade and saving the lives of vulnerable people.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby used his Easter Sunday sermon to denounce “sub-contracting out” of the UK’s responsibility to those seeking refuge as “the opposite of the nature of God”.
Home Office staff have reportedly threatened to strike over the Rwanda proposals – and the position they are being put in to implement them.
A letter before action, which is the formal start of the process for a Judicial Review challenge at the High Court, was sent to the Home Office on Tuesday by solicitors representing PCS, Detention Action and Care4Calais.
It argues that people seeking asylum in the UK and those tasked with implementing the new rules need to be able to fully understand the implications of the policy, and for that to happen Patel must make the criteria supporting it public so that it can be properly assessed.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said it was vital that staff had a clear understanding of the rules they were being asked to implement and that refugees had the same awareness of the rules that they would be subjected to.
“PCS is bringing this action on behalf of our members in the Home Office who will be expected to implement this policy; and on behalf of the refugees affected by it,” he said.
“We want to improve the working environment in which our members operate, including through the development of a humane asylum and immigration system.
“PCS members in the Home Office do a difficult job. We have asked the Home Office for details of what precisely they expect our members to do in respect of this policy and the legal basis for it. Nothing has been forthcoming. They are again playing fast and loose with our members’ safety and wellbeing.”
Serwotka noted that PCS had been successful in its challenge of the Home Office’s “pushbacks” policy for boats attempting to cross the English Channel earlier this week.
“We are again determined to take action to prevent our members being placed in an untenable position,” he said.
A Home Office spokesperson said Rwanda was a safe country that would help refugees lead dignified and fulfilled lives and that those relocated there would have all their needs met with the opportunity to settle if they wanted to.
“Our new migration and economic development partnership with Rwanda fully complies with international and national law,” the spokesperson said. “We will defend any legal challenge robustly.”
The Home Office said the agreement required Rwanda to process claims in accordance with the UN Refugee Convention, ensuring protection from inhuman and degrading treatment.
It added that those recognised as having a protection need would not be returned to the place they originally fled or another location where they would be in similar danger.