Next government may face claims for compensation from Rwanda flight detainees

<span>Protesters outside a Home Office building in Croydon in April, after the start of the UK-wide detention operation.</span><span>Photograph: Tolga Akmen/EPA</span>
Protesters outside a Home Office building in Croydon in April, after the start of the UK-wide detention operation.Photograph: Tolga Akmen/EPA

The next government could have to make costly payouts to dozens of asylum seekers detained for deportation to Rwanda, even if the Rwanda deal falls apart after the general election.

Legal actions are being lodged by asylum seekers who say the Home Office locked them up unlawfully before the threatened first flight to the east African country. Home Office sources indicated they did not accept these claims.

More than 80 of those detained have now been granted bail but dozens remain locked up even though there is no imminent prospect of a plane to Rwanda taking off. The Conservative party has said the first flight will not leave until 24 July if it is re-elected on 4 July, while Labour has said it would scrap the policy.

The Rwanda plan is part of the government’s policy to “stop the boats” but more than 11,000 people have crossed the Channel so far this year.

At the end of March, 104,517 people were in receipt of asylum support, 6% fewer than at the end of December 2023, according to Home Office figures published on Thursday. Of these, 35,686 (34%) were in hotel accommodation, a figure 25% greater than previously disclosed.

Immigration detainees should be locked up only if they are likely to be deported within a reasonable timescale. Usually, people are detained for weeks rather than months before a planned removal.

More than 100 asylum seekers were detained at the end of April and beginning of May as part of a high-profile government campaign to implement the Rwanda policy before the local elections.

Adam (not his real name), an Eritrean asylum seeker, was one of them. He has now been released after a month’s detention and said he was still suffering from the effects of being incarcerated.

“The experience of being locked up, even though I did not commit any crime, has affected me very greatly,” he said. “I feel like an egg that has been broken and which can’t be put back together again.”

He added: “Detention was a very bad thing. I was given a very dirty blanket and instead I used my coat to cover myself with. We were told we were in a detention centre but as far as I could see it was a prison.

“We were locked in our cells overnight and at lunchtime. I fled forced conscription in my country and struggled for eight years before I reached the UK. I thought this was a country of human rights.

“At first I was too frightened to leave my house after I came out of detention. I lost a lot of weight there. I am trying to enjoy my freedom outside but I am still very scared.”

A second man, from Syria, who remains in detention and is awaiting a bail hearing, said: “On Saturday it will be six weeks that I will have been detained. There are about 15 to 20 of us detained for Rwanda in this centre who are still locked up.

“The conditions are very difficult here but the release of others who were supposed to be going to Rwanda has given me some hope.”

Pierre Makhlouf, of the charity Bail for Immigration Detainees, which has helped more than a dozen detainees to get bail, said: “The government carried out a mass swoop of vulnerable people from war zones, who have suffered persecution, knowing they are traumatised. By rounding people up months before they are due to be removed, they created a climate of fear.”

Laura Smith, of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said all three of the asylum seekers detained for Rwanda whom she represented had been released. She said the experience of detention had caused all three to deteriorate mentally.

Duncan Lewis solicitors represents 50 people detained for deportation to Rwanda, all of whom have now been granted bail.

Lewis Kett, a solicitor at the firm, said: “Serious questions need to be asked of this government about their decision to collectively detain scores of men and women, at a time when removal was in no way imminent.

“Within the group we represent, we have seen torture and trafficking survivors and those with serious mental health issues. It is a huge waste of taxpayers’ money to have detained them and to now financially compensate them.”

Adam said he was slowly getting used to having his liberty restored. “I keep thinking this freedom is only temporary. I hope I will never be locked up again. The British people are good but the government is not. For now I am just trying to forget that I was ever in detention.”