Home Office was warned of political killings before sending asylum seekers to Rwanda

Rwandan government uses “arbitrary detention, torture and even killings”, memo revealed in High Court case says
Photo: horst friedrichs/Alamy Stock Photo

Ministers were warned that the Rwandan government uses “arbitrary detention, torture and even killings” to silence its political opponents while the Home Office was preparing to send asylum seekers to the country, it has emerged.

The Foreign Office official appointed by the department to review the controversial policy also told ministers the level of surveillance the Rwandan government exercises on its own citizens is equivalent to having an informant for every ten households.

A memo dated April 26 – two weeks after home secretary Priti Patel signed the deal to “process” and settle asylum seekers in the African country – explained how a combination of party, intelligence and military personnel give the Rwandan government considerable control over its citizens.

The memo was shared during a High Court hearing that comes before a judicial review of the policy, which starts next month.

An extract read out in court yesterday read: “There are state control, security, surveillance structures from the national level down to the ten households as a unit of administration (a combination of party, intelligence and military). Political opposition is not tolerated and arbitrary detention, torture and even killings are accepted methods of enforcing control too.”

The Guardian, the BBC and The Times are trying to force the Home Office to reveal advice it has received on the policy that has so far gone unpublished.

During the hearing, the three outlets made submissions to the court arguing that disclosing parts of particular documents that the Home Office has redacted would be in the public interest. 

Appearing for the media organisations, Jude Bunting QC said: "The public needs to understand the material that was available to the [government] at the time the decisions under challenge were taken, the evidence that is said to weigh against, as well as to justify, this flagship policy, and the reasons why the [government] decided to proceed."

Foreign secretary Liz Truss has said the 10 passages in question should be kept confidential because making them public could damage international relations and national security.

Publishing the full documents would cause serious harm “primarily but not exclusively” to the UK’s relationship with the Rwandan government, FCDO minister Graham Stuart said in written evidence to the court, citing “Rwanda’s status as a valuable strategic partner to the United Kingdom across a range of issues including regional security, the maintenance of a strong coalition in support of Ukraine and combating the activities of criminal gangs engaged in illegal immigration”.

Lord Justice Lewis is expected to make a ruling on the government’s application for a public interest immunity certificate tomorrow.

A government spokesperson said: “Rwanda is a safe and secure country with a track record of supporting asylum seekers.

“We remain committed to delivering this policy to break the business model of criminal gangs and save lives.”

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