LONDON – Officials at Britain's Foreign Office warned against the U.K.'s plans to deport asylum-seekers to Rwanda, citing the East African country's human rights record, according to documents cited in a lawsuit brought against the British government.
In written submissions filed Tuesday, lawyer Raza Husain said Foreign Office officials told then Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab in March that if Rwanda were selected for the policy, “we would need to be prepared to constrain U.K. positions on Rwanda’s human rights record, and to absorb resulting criticism from U.K. Parliament and NGOs.”
The government initially excluded Rwanda from the shortlist of potential destination countries for deported migrants “on human rights grounds," according to Husain, who is representing a group of asylum-seekers, charities and public employee unions.
The group brought legal action against Britain's government over the deportation agreement reached with Rwanda in April.
Under the plan, Britain would deport people who enter the U.K. illegally and in exchange for accepting them, Rwanda would receive millions in development aid. The deportees would be allowed to apply for asylum in Rwanda, not Britain.
Authorities have defended the plan, arguing it would deter asylum-seekers from making dangerous and “unnecessary" trips on small boats across the English Channel. But it has drawn outrage from human rights activists, the United Nations and many others who say it is illegal and inhumane to send people thousands of miles away to a country they don’t want to live in.
Some have denounced the policy as an attack on the rights of refugees that most countries have recognized since the end of World War II.
Citing internal memos and other government documents, Husain said a Foreign Office note from April said the human rights concerns about Rwanda included the potential for “torture or degrading treatment” of the deportees.
Husain also said the U.K.'s high commissioner to Rwanda indicated last year that the country should not be used be considered for several reasons — including that it “has been accused of recruiting refugees to conduct armed operations in neighboring countries."
Britain was forced to cancel the first deportation flight at the last minute last month after the European Court of Human Rights ruled the plan carried “a real risk of irreversible harm.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel has vowed that her government would not be put off by such legal challenges.
Britain's government has argued that while Rwanda was the site of a genocide that killed hundreds of thousands of people in 1994, the country has built a reputation for stability and economic progress since then. Critics say that stability comes at the cost of political repression.
Yvette Cooper, a lawmaker from the opposition Labour Party, said the documents were evidence that the Rwanda deportation plan was “unworkable and unethical.”
“Today’s revelations show that ministers knew the policy was unenforceable, would be at very high fraud risk and would undermine U.K. foreign policy and our ability to raise the issue of Rwanda’s human rights record,” Cooper said.
Two judges are expected to give their decision Wednesday on when a full hearing over the case will take place.
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