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Urgent injunction sought to halt Rwanda refugee flights

Editor’s note: Further to the below – we have been informed that this application for injunction by Asylum Aid will be heard on Monday 13 June at 2pm at the High Court.

A leading refugee charity, Asylum Aid, has applied for an urgent interim injunction to stop the government flying refugees to Rwanda until their application for judicial review can be heard.

The interim injunction application was made today on the charity’s behalf by law firm Leigh Day. The injunction seeks to prevent any flights taking place, including the one scheduled on Tuesday 14 June 2022, until an application for judicial review of the procedures and arrangements in place to send refugees to Rwanda can be heard by the court.

Asylum Aid have asked the High Court to hear their claim alongside another application seeking to halt the flight on 14 June, which is listed at the High Court tomorrow.

Asylum Aid, a charity provider of legal representation to people seeking protection from persecution in the UK, has issued the judicial review legal challenge in the week before the Home Office plans to start sending thousands of asylum seekers from countries such as Sudan, Syria and Iran to Rwanda under a deal struck with the country’s government.

The charity wrote to the Home Office ahead of the Jubilee bank holiday weekend, setting out their legal case against the policy, and were assured that no Rwanda refugee flights would take place before 14 June.

Asylum Aid argues that the government’s rapid process for sending asylum seekers to Rwanda is unlawful as it is inconsistent with the statutory powers conferred by Parliament, procedurally unfair and constitutes a serious impediment to access to justice. Asylum Aid’s concerns include that the plans are:

  • based on a blanket assessment of Rwanda as a ‘safe’ country, which goes against the government’s commitment to case-by-case decision-making;
  • involve such tight timeframes – only seven days for each asylum seeker to obtain legal advice and to present their case – that the process is inherently flawed and unfair;
  • give rise to a real risk that individuals may be removed without having had effective access to legal advice and courts.

In their legal case Asylum Aid argue that the Home Office is mimicking the “safe third country” (STC) asylum returns agreement, known as “Dublin III” that applied when the UK was a member of the EU, and applying it to the Rwanda arrangement without the necessary legal safeguards.  Rwanda’s record on human rights, refugee status determination and commitment to the rule of law has attracted consistent international criticism and is not presumed by statute to be generally safe.

As part of its claim Asylum Aid has compiled compelling evidence from legal and other service providers,  who each have first-hand experience working with individuals who are subject to the new procedure. The evidence demonstrates that individuals struggle to access legal advice in the accelerated timescale, and that even when legal advice is available the time limits are too short for their lawyers to take instructions, gather evidence and make representations on the many complex factual and legal issues which the Home Office must decide. The evidence also shows the extreme difficulty of mounting effective challenges in court to the many decisions served alongside removal directions, in circumstances where there has already been inadequate time to prepare representations prior to the decisions being taken.

Kerry Smith, Chief Executive of Asylum Aid, said:

“This government’s attempt to punish vulnerable people seeking asylum because it doesn’t approve of the way they reached our shores is simply unlawful. This shameful push to rapidly remove people seeking protection to Rwanda is another attempt to pass the buck on the UK’s responsibilities. We know that the people who will be sent to Rwanda come from countries in conflict or that have poor human rights records such as Iran, Syria, and Sudan.

“If successful, this plan will put all those targeted in danger and will expose vulnerable individuals to devastating harm and risks. Rwanda is not a safe country for people seeking asylum, in particular for survivors of trafficking, torture and LGBTQ+ people. This government must be held to account when trying to break the rules especially ones which they have publicly committed to.

“The Rwanda scheme involves a process that flies in the face of the government’s stated commitment to a ‘fair’ asylum system. We are seeing vulnerable people locked up on arrival in the UK with no information, no understanding of what is happening to them and only given seven days to access legal advice and make their case for not being removed to Rwanda. You would get longer than that to challenge a parking ticket.

“The ultimate victims of this scheme will be the most vulnerable in our society who, having taken the only route available to them to reach safety, face permanent expulsion to an unknown and potentially dangerous country. Survivors of trafficking and torture will be at heightened risk of being targeted for abuse, exploitation and re-trafficking.
Our justice system is based the rule of law and we should be making sure that all people fleeing countries where there are denied those things are offered a fair process to make their case.”

Tessa Gregory, partner at law firm Leigh Day representing Asylum Aid together with solicitors Stephanie Hill and Carolin Ott said:

“Our client believes that the government’s Rwanda plans are unlawful and that the highly truncated procedures give rise to a real risk that individuals may be removed to Rwanda without having had effective access to legal advice and courts.

“There is no doubt that the decisions to forcibly remove those seeking asylum in the UK to Rwanda are of the most profound significance. Such decisions plainly should not be taken in circumstances where affected individuals have not had a fair opportunity to make representations and where there are serious and complex issues about the lawfulness of the entire scheme which have not yet been determined by the court.”

The application is being supported by charity Freedom from Torture. Sonya Sceats, Chief Executive at Freedom from Torture said:

“The public outcry at the government’s cruel plan to send refugees to Rwanda has been so great that airlines expected of involvement in next week’s flights have already begun to rule themselves out. We believe these flights are probably unlawful, so the government is trying to rush the first flights out before legal challenges derail their plans. This is a brazen attempt to avoid judicial scrutiny by a government that thinks the law does not apply to them.
“We are throwing our full weight behind legal challenges that could ensure these flights do not leave the runway, and will keep fighting against this neo-colonial ‘cash for humans’  scheme to make the UK a safe place for people fleeing torture and persecution.”

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