In written submissions at Tuesday’s preliminary hearing, it was revealed that Rwanda was “initially excluded from the shortlist of potential partner countries” for the immigration policy “on human rights grounds”.
The UK Commissioner to Rwanda suggested in February 2021 that the country “should not be pursued as an option for the planned migration policy”, and offered reasons to look elsewhere.
“(It) has been accused of recruiting refugees to conduct armed operations in neighbouring countries”, a note says.
“(There is) a poor human rights record regardless of the conventions it has signed up to”, and Rwanda has been criticised by the UK for crackdowns on regime critics, killings, disappearances, and deaths in custody, court papers show.
The government announced its controversial deal with Rwanda in April, to send migrants who arrive in the UK by small boat to the African country for their asylum claim to be dealt with.
The first flight was arranged June, with a High Court judge refusing to impose a temporary bar on deportations. But following an intervention from the European Court of Human Rights the flight was scrapped.
A full Judicial Review, looking at the legality of the policy, is due to be heard in September or October.
In written submissions by some of the asylum seekers, it was revealed that then-Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was briefed by officials in March 2021 that the UK would have to prepare to “constrain” its position on Rwanda’s human rights record if the country was selected in the Government’s policy.
Raza Husain QC, representing a group of asylum seekers, said disclosed documents in the legal case show Rwanda had initially been specifically excluded from the shortlist of potential countries “on human rights grounds”.
The note to Mr Raab read: “We would need to be prepared to constrain UK positions on Rwanda’s human rights record, and to absorb resulting criticism from UK Parliament and NGOs.”
The following month, “human rights concerns” were raised again in the Foreign Office, amid concerns around “challenges” relating to torture or degrading treatment.
Another memo showed Foreign Office officials had advised Downing Street against engagement with a number of countries, including Rwanda.
“On May 20 2021, a memo from the Foreign Office indicated that it ‘continue(d) to advise No10 against engagement’ with Rwanda and several other countries, and identified that ‘in most cases, any agreement with these states would require us to relax the legal criteria… which requires inter alia that a country has a functioning asylum system in compliance with Refugee Convention obligations’.”
The government is accused of being reluctant to engage with the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, ahead of announcing the Rwanda policy.
Tuesday’s hearing has dealt with timetabling of the full Judicial Review hearing, with the Home Secretary arguing it must be heard in September to deter boatloads of asylum seekers from crossing the Channel this autumn.
Written submissions for the Home Secretary, who has a legal team led by Rory Dunlop QC, argued the hearing should be fast-tracked to start on September 5.
“There is a strong public interest in listing this case expeditiously”, they said.
“An adjournment beyond 5 September 2022 would be contrary to the strong public interest in permitting government to put into effect a policy intended to deter illegal, unnecessary and dangerous journeys.”
The submission goes on to argue: “An adjournment to October or November may be particularly damaging to the public interest because, judging from the data for 2021, September and November 2021 were the two months with the highest numbers of people crossing by small boat.”
The full Judicial Review hearing was originally due to take place this week, but was adjourned to the autumn after an application by the claimants which was opposed by the Home Office.
Mr Husain told the hearing the legal battle has been going at a “hurtling pace” but more time is needed to prepare.
“We say the Secretary of State’s proposal of September 5 isn’t just, because it prioritises expedition over fairness”, he said.
He said a fast-tracked hearing “will exclude relevant evidence and give rise to further proceedings”.
The Home Secretary wants the court to rule that only deportation decisions which have been finalised by July 29 are involved in the Judicial Review, and argued that further representations from asylum seekers’ lawyers should also be excluded from the case.
“If (they) were to continue their current practice of almost daily further representations and the Secretary of State had to consider all those representations that would make it impossible for (her) to finalise decisions by 29 July 2022 which could be the focus of the hearing”, said Mr Dunlop.
Mr Husain said the minister is proposing an “arbitrary and artificial guillotine” on material to be included in the court battle, as he suggested October 10 would be a more realistic date of the hearing.
While the Home Office believes the case can be dealt with in five days, claimants are suggesting up to 15 days of court time may be needed.
The hearing continues, with Lord Justice Lewis and Mr Justice Swift set to reserve their final decisions.