Home Office threatens hunger strikers with faster deportation to Rwanda

Letter seen as potential warning to 17 asylum seekers who began protest after being given offshoring date

Asylum seekers who went on hunger strike over plans to send them to Rwanda have been threatened with faster deportation by the Home Office if they do not eat.

At least 17 people from Syria, Egypt and Sudan, who are being held at the Brook House immigration removal centre near Gatwick airport, began the protest when they were told they would be sent to Rwanda on 14 June as part of a controversial new scheme.

In a letter seen by the Guardian, one was threatened with deportation even sooner if they did not stop their hunger strike.

In a warning that could be interpreted as a threat to the wider group, it said: “Your refusal of food and/or fluids will not necessarily lead to your removal directions being deferred. In the interests of your health and safety we may prioritise your removal from detention and the UK.”

The letter said the welfare of the person was “of real concern to the Home Office”.

In a statement, some of the hunger strikers said they had been detained in Libya but had not expected the same treatment in the UK.

“I just want to be safe and free. I’m not a criminal,” one said. “Why did the UK put me in prison. I have no connection with Rwanda. Why would the UK send me there?”

Charity workers campaigning for the detainees said they had been successfully trying to encourage them to abandon the hunger strike without coercion.

Clare Moseley, the founder of the charity Care4Calais, said five asylum seekers remained on hunger strike but she was hopeful they would be persuaded to stop.

“We’ve told them there’s lots of ways that we can fight this and lots of reasons to be hopeful,” she said. “One person was released last week, another person was released yesterday. Campaigners and lawyers are working right across the bank holiday weekend and there’s lots of people behind them.”

She said: “We need them to eat because we need them to be strong to fight with us. They are saying that a hunger strike is the way to fight this, but we are are saying there’s other ways that we can fight it.”

A Syrian detainee at Brook House told the BBC Arabic service that he and 17 others had been on hunger strike for several days. He said they would rather die than be deported to Rwanda, according to the BBC.

The people were sent removal directions stating they would be sent to Rwanda on 14 June. The document stated that the decision cannot be appealed against.

On Wednesday, charities that support asylum seekers said they had documented a number of suicide attempts among those threatened with being sent to Rwanda.

One Iranian asylum seeker who attempted suicide told charity workers she believed she faced being offshored to Rwanda. She was rescued, admitted to hospital and survived.

A 40-year-old Yemeni asylum seeker made a video addressed to the prime minister, Boris Johnson, and the home secretary, Priti Patel, stating that after he had arrived in the UK on 13 April and found out about Rwanda offshoring plans he had “no other choice but to kill myself”.

The Home Office has said every step is taken to prevent self harm or suicide at immigration removal centres. Sources in the department said on Thursday evening that nobody was still on hunger strike.

On Tuesday, Patel announced that the first group of asylum seekers who entered the UK without authorisation would be deported to Rwanda on 14 June.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Our world-leading partnership with Rwanda is a key part of our strategy to overhaul the broken asylum system and break the evil people-smugglers’ business model. We have now issued formal directions to the first group of people due to be relocated to Rwanda later this month, where they will be given the opportunity to rebuild their lives.

“The health and welfare of those in immigration detention is of the utmost importance. We have a dedicated welfare team onsite at each immigration removal centre responsible for identifying vulnerable individuals and providing assistance to support individuals’ needs.”


Diane Taylor and Matthew Weaver

The GuardianTramp

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