Union seeks to block Home Office's first Rwanda flight as legal challenge kicks off

PCS says it will not allow members to be put in “potentially dangerous" situations "where they may be asked to act illegally"
Priti Patel and Rwandan foreign minister Vincent Biruta at a joint news conference, after signing the agreement in Kigali, Rwanda. Photo: REUTERS/Jean Bizimana

Legal action against the Home Office’s plans to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda is set to kick off as early as next week, after the PCS union and two human-rights groups issued judicial review proceedings in the High Court.

The civil service’s biggest union, charity Care4Calais, campaign group Detention Action, and four asylum seekers set to be removed under the policy, have issued the claim as a matter of urgency, after home secretary Priti Patel scheduled the first removal flight to Rwanda on 14 June.

The groups argue that both the policy itself, and the removal of the four asylum seekers, are unlawful for several reasons.

They say the Home Office needs to explain the legal basis for the policy in several areas: whether the home secretary has legal authority to carry out the removals; her conclusion that Rwanda is generally a “safe third country” for asylum seekers to live in; and whether the Home Office has made inadequate provision for malaria prevention, and compliance with the Human Rights Act. Patel has so far not provided answers, they have said.

​​Patel announced the Rwanda plans in mid-April as part of a £120m “migration and economic development partnership” with the east African nation. She said the move would discourage people from crossing the Channel to seek asylum and save the lives of vulnerable people.

Solicitors representing PCS, Detention Action and Care4Calais sent a letter before action – the formal start of the process for a judicial review challenge at the High Court – to the Home Office last month.

But Patel has given no assurances that she will wait for the policy to be tested in court before pressing ahead with sending people to Rwanda.

Because of this, the claimants have sought an injunction to stop next week’s flight.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said the Rwanda removals policy shows the government has “learned nothing from the Windrush scandal”, in which Commonwealth nationals with a right to live in the UK were wrongly deported and denied access to services.

“PCS is not prepared to countenance our members being put in potentially dangerous and traumatic situations, where they may be asked to act illegally,” he said.

“PCS is determined to work for a more humane environment on asylum and immigration. This would give our members the time, space and resources that they need to carry out their jobs properly and would improve the experience of refugees. This latest judicial review application is key to that endeavour.” 

James Wilson, deputy director of Detention Action, said Patel had “overstepped her authority” in wanting to punish people for seeking asylum in the UK.

“By rushing through what we say is an unlawful policy, she is turning a blind eye to the many clear dangers and human rights violations that it would inflict on people seeking asylum,” he said.

“It’s vital that new government policies respect and uphold the laws that we all, as a society, have agreed to follow. That’s why we're seeking an injunction to keep this plane to Rwanda from leaving the runway.”

Clare Moseley, founder of Care4Calais, which delivers ​​emergency aid to refugees in Calais and areas affected by the European migrant crisis, said the charity had spoken to nearly 100 people in detention who have been told they will be forcibly sent to Rwanda.

“Almost all are overwhelmed by total shock and despair,” she said.

“Many came to the UK believing it to be a good place that would treat them more fairly than the places from which they escaped.

“We say that the Rwanda plan is unlawful. We hope the courts will agree with us.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We have been clear from the start that we expected legal challenges – however, we are determined to deliver this new partnership.”

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