Government sent Rwanda deportation warnings to asylum seekers during national mourning over Queen’s death

·4-min read

The government told more asylum seekers they may be sent to Rwanda in legal notices issued during the period of national mourning following the Queen’s death.

A letter seen by The Independent, dated 13 September, told one man that he could be declared “inadmissible” for protection in the UK because he had been present in France before crossing the English Channel.

“This may have consequences for whether your claim is admitted to the UK asylum system,” the letter added.

“We will review your particular circumstances and the evidence in your case and consider whether it is reasonable to have expected you to have claimed protection in Italy or France … we may also share your personal data with Rwanda in order to ask Rwanda, another country we consider to be safe, whether it would admit you, under the terms of the Migration and Economic Development Partnership between Rwanda and the UK.”

The letter is understood to be one of several similarly worded “notices of intent” sent to asylum seekers in recent days, but the Home Office has refused to disclose the number of people being considered for the Rwanda scheme.

It went out five days after Queen Elizabeth II died, during a period of national mourning that saw the Home Office pause public announcements and refuse to give statements on issues including record numbers of small boat crossings.

Clare Moseley, the founder of charity Clare Care4Calais, told The Independent: “Whilst the country was in mourning, the Home Office was busy threatening the victims of war, torture, and human rights abuses with deportation under their brutal Rwanda policy.

“These notices are causing alarm and distress amongst those who receive them. These people have already experienced some of the worst things imaginable in life.

“Many of them we work with were in touch to pass on their condolences to the UK for the passing of the Queen, it is unbelievable that some of them received Rwanda notices over the mourning period.”

More than 30,500 people have been detected crossing the English Channel in dinghies so far in 2022, with the number continuing to rocket despite ministers’ repeated claims that the Rwanda policy would act as a “deterrent”.

It is subject to two ongoing legal challenges at the High Court, after a flight attempted in June was grounded following last-minute injunctions by the European Court of Human Rights.

Accounts by security guards revealed how asylum seekers self-harmed and threatened suicide after begging not to be put on the plane to Rwanda, and were attached to their seats in restraints.

No further flights are expected to be scheduled until the High Court decides the outcome of the first legal challenge, which was heard earlier this month, and a separate case to be brought by Asylum Aid in October.

Suella Braverman, the new home secretary, has not signalled any diversion from the plan spearheaded by her predecessor Priti Patel despite questions over its legality, effectiveness and cost.

In a speech to civil servants following her appointment by Liz Truss, Ms Braverman said stopping migrants crossing the English Channel in small boats would be one of her key priorities.

She has not yet detailed any new plans, following an aborted attempt to force dinghies back to France and the failure of claimed “deterrents” such as naval patrols and harsher immigration laws to have an effect.

The government changed its own immigration rules in January 2021 to mean that it can refuse to consider asylum claims if people have passed through safe countries where it deems they could have claimed protection.

Official Home Office guidance says an asylum seeker who “spent a couple of weeks in Brussels staying with friends whilst trying to find an agent to bring them illegally to the UK” could be declared inadmissible.

The guidance says that removal to Rwanda should be considered if it “stands a greater chance” than removal to the country they are deemed to have a connection to.

An EU-wide scheme allowing the transfer of asylum seekers to countries they previously stayed in was lost during Brexit and has not been replaced, meaning the UK cannot send them to common transit nations like France and Italy.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The world-leading migration partnership with Rwanda means those making dangerous, unnecessary and illegal journeys to the UK may be relocated to Rwanda to have their claims for asylum considered and to rebuild their lives there.

“No court has ruled this policy is unlawful – we have always been clear we will continue to progress the partnership and are continuing to inform those people who come to the UK through these routes that they are in scope to be relocated to Rwanda.”