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Rwanda plan challenged over alleged failure to identify risks for LGBTQ+ refugees

Pre-action letter questions Home Office claims that east African country is ‘generally safe’

Priti Patel’s plan to send refugees on a one-way ticket to Rwanda is being challenged in the courts over the government’s alleged failure to identify risks facing vulnerable groups such as LGBTQ+ people.

A pre-action letter sent to the Home Office on behalf of the pressure group Freedom from Torture questions government claims that the east African state is “generally a safe country” for refugees.

The department’s equality impact assessment for the policy said there were concerns over the treatment of some LGBTQ+ people in Rwanda, and that investigations pointed to “ill treatment” of this group being “more than one-off”.

Despite this, the government’s assessment of Rwanda’s human rights record states that there were “not substantial grounds” for believing LGBTQ+ people would be at risk of treatment contrary to article 3 (freedom from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment) of the European convention of human rights.

Sonya Sceats, chief executive at Freedom from Torture, said: “The government’s wilful blindness to the risks facing people expelled under this scheme are frankly horrifying, including attempts to minimise the threat posed to LGBTQI people in Rwanda.”

The latest figures show an increase in the numbers of people crossing the Channel since the Rwanda plan was first confirmed by Boris Johnson in April.

Ministers had hoped to see early evidence that the proposition of being sent to Rwanda would break the business model of people-traffickers operating in the Channel.

More than 4,300 people have reached the UK in small boats since the prime minister unveiled plans to fly illegal arrivals 4,500 miles to apply for asylum in Rwanda.

That is more than two and half times the number that crossed in the same period last year and maintains the same pace of increase seen since the beginning of the year. More than 9,000 have so far reached the UK since the start of the year, compared with 3,500 at the same point in 2021.

At least 50 migrants have been handed “notices of intent” saying they have been identified as eligible to be sent to Rwanda, where they will be expected to claim asylum.

A pre-action letter from solicitors Leigh Day on behalf of Freedom from Torture says: “Our client has serious concerns regarding the process by which vulnerability will be assessed in terms of suitability for transfer to Rwanda and, if transfer is assessed as being appropriate, individual needs in Rwanda.”

The letter challenges the lawfulness of the policy on the grounds that:

  • the government’s claim that Rwanda is “generally” a “safe third country” is irrational;

  • it relies upon apparent pre-determination or bias;

  • the home secretary has breached her duty not to induce breaches of the European convention on human rights by her agents;

  • removing asylum seekers to Rwanda is beyond Patel’s legal authority because it is contrary to the refugee convention.

Because of the government’s claims that removals to Rwanda could begin as early as 6 June, the letter demands a response under the pre-action protocol within seven days and reserves the right to issue proceedings without further reference to the government.

Other organisations have also issued pre-action letters against the Rwanda plan. Joint action from PCS, Care4Calais and Detention Action have received a response from the Home Office to their second pre-action letter, which also challenged Patel’s plan to send people seeking asylum to Rwanda. They are represented by Duncan Lewis Solicitors.

Foreign Office travel advice for Rwanda states: “Individuals can experience discrimination and abuse, including from local authorities. There are no specific anti-discrimination laws that protect LGBT individuals.”

The home secretary is still refusing to publish the suitability criteria that determines who is eligible for removal to Rwanda.

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