Rwanda an 'authoritarian state' that 'tortures and murders opponents', High Court told as challenge begins against asylum policy
Rwanda is an "authoritarian state" where those considered opponents are tortured and murdered, lawyers opposing the government's deportation deal with the east African country have said.
A legal challenge against the controversial policy began on Monday, with the High Court told that Rwanda is subject to "extreme levels of surveillance that does not tolerate political opposition".
The regime "tortures and murders those it considers to be its opponents", Raza Husain QC said.
Politics Hub: Truss beats Sunak in Tory leadership contest
Mr Husain, representing asylum seekers, appeared alongside groups such as Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), Care4Calais and Detention Action, which are bringing the case against Home Secretary Priti Patel.
More than 50 demonstrators gathered outside the Royal Courts of Justice to protest as evidence was heard.
The challenge is being brought against what Ms Patel called a "world-first agreement" with Rwanda, which was announced in April this year.
Ms Patel had launched the plan in the hope of deterring migrants from crossing the Channel. However, the first deportation flight, which was due for take-off on 14 June, was grounded following a series of legal challenges.
Mr Husain added: "A presumption of safety must be sufficiently supported at the outset."
The barrister said that "neither the claimed economic benefit" of the policy, "nor its asserted efficacy as a deterrent, has any evidential foundation".
Mr Husain said the UN's High Commissioner for Refugees has raised a number of concerns about Rwanda's record, including a high rate of rejection for asylum seekers who are not from neighbouring countries and issues with its process for determining refugee status, as well as failure to provide reasons for refusal.
The Home Office is defending the claims, however, with lawyers arguing the policy is "not unlawful" and that the deal between Rwanda and the UK provides assurances that ensure everyone sent there will have a "safe and effective" refugee status determination procedure.
The home secretary has insisted that Rwanda is a "safe" country, while the incoming prime minister, Liz Truss, supports the policy and has said she would expand it to other countries.
Lord Pannick QC and Sir James Eadie QC, members of Ms Patel's legal team, have argued there is no risk of those who are not granted refugee status in Rwanda being removed to their country of origin, adding that "Rwanda does not conduct forcible removals to the countries of which these claimants are nationals."
They added: "Arrangements have been made to ensure they are provided with suitable accommodation and support in Rwanda."
Click to subscribe to the Sky News Daily wherever you get your podcasts
During a previous hearing, the court was told Rwanda had initially been excluded from the shortlist of potential countries "on human rights grounds".
The court heard the UK High Commissioner to Rwanda previously indicated the country should not be used as an option for the policy, telling the government it "has been accused of recruiting refugees to conduct armed operations in neighbouring countries".
The hearing is due to last for five days, with a second hearing in a claim brought by the group Asylum Aid set to take place in October.