The civil service’s biggest union has called on members at the Home Office to think carefully before taking part in controversial proposals to send some categories of asylum seeker who arrive in the UK to Rwanda for “processing”.
PCS said the plans, which are effectively a one-way ticket to East Africa for those selected, were “inhumane” and could expose Home Office officials to legal action if people being transported are injured during their flights or when they arrive.
“PCS has advised Home Office staff to give serious consideration’ to not volunteering for training on the government’s programme,” the union said in a statement yesterday.
“We also have concerns about the availability of overseas medical help for members in case of an emergency and of the dangers of asylum seekers turning violent in the Channel.”
A briefing sent to union members working for the Home Office said the legal basis for the use of force in relation to the programme was still unknown. “We do not want to put staff in a position where they are acting illegally,” it said.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said the Rwanda scheme was “not just cruel, callous and inhumane” but also “unworkable”.
“We have real concerns our members will be put at risk by trying to implement it,” he said.
“Previously, encounters with those crossing the Channel on small boats have been broadly peaceful, but they may not remain so if there is a serious threat of removal to Rwanda.”
Home secretary Priti Patel described the proposals as a “world-leading” solution to illegal people trafficking operations in the English Channel when they were first announced as part of a £120m “migration and economic development partnership” with Rwanda last month.
It subsequently emerged that Home Office permanent secretary Matthew Rycroft sought a ministerial direction to proceed with the programme because of concerns about the “highly uncertain” financial evidence base for its anticipated deterrent effect.
Home Office staff reportedly threatened to strike over the proposals during an online forum in which Rycroft participated.
PCS has since launched a High Court challenge to the programme, in conjunction with charities Detention Action and Care4Calais. Central elements of the claim are 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.
The challenge 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.
A Home Office spokesperson said there had been clear guidelines in place to support departmental staff or contractors escorting people to other countries “for years”, regardless of location.
“Our partnership with Rwanda fully complies with international and national law,” they said. “We will defend any legal challenge robustly.”
This story was updated at 5.30pm on 13 May to include a response from the Home Office