Priti Patel’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda as soon as next week is facing a legal challenge under emergency proceedings launched in the high court on Wednesday.
An application for a judicial review claims that the home secretary’s policy is unlawful. Claimants are also seeking an injunction that will attempt to stop the plane from taking off.
It is the first legal challenge of the policy to have been officially put before the courts, and comes as Boris Johnson is under pressure from his own MPs to demonstrate a policy success.
With less than a week until the flight on 14 June, up to 30 asylum seekers are expected to be flown one way to Rwanda and encouraged to apply for asylum there.
The judicial review has been launched by the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), the charity Care4Calais and the pressure group Detention Action, along with four asylum seekers facing removal to the east African state.
The policy, which was unveiled by Johnson, will be challenged over Patel’s right to carry out such removals; the rationality of Patel’s claim that Rwanda is generally a “safe third country”; the adequacy of provision for malaria prevention in Rwanda; and whether it complies with the Human Rights Act.
It has been issued as a matter of urgency, after Patel scheduled the first removal flight to Rwanda on 14 June. She has refused to give assurances that no removals to Rwanda would take place until the lawfulness of the policy has been tested in court.
Another challenge, from the charity Freedom From Torture, is also expected in days. It is expected to question whether Rwanda is a safe third country; whether the policy breaches the European convention on human rights; and if removing asylum seekers to Rwanda is beyond Patel’s legal authority because it is contrary to the refugee convention.
According to reports in the Daily Mail, about 80 asylum seekers who are in detention after receiving notices of intent about being removed to Rwanda have lodged individual legal challenges against being put on the 14 June flight.
The number of refugees and asylum seekers crossing the Channel to reach the UK so far this year has passed 10,000. The increase in the number of people crossing this year suggests that the threat of being sent to Rwanda has not deterred asylum seekers from travelling to the UK.
The Home Office appears to be targeting those who arrived in small boats in mid-May for sending to Rwanda.
Those who have been told they will be sent to Rwanda include a former senior Iranian police officer who fled to the UK after giving first-hand testimony of potential human rights violations by the Iranian government, and people who say they are unaccompanied 16-year-olds.
Responding to the legal action, a Home Office spokesperson said: “We have been clear from the start that we expected legal challenges – however, we are determined to deliver this new partnership.”
In a further development, the chief inspector of borders and immigration has disclosed that he has not been able to meet Patel since taking up the role more than a year ago after she cancelled “five or six” meetings.
David Neal, the migration watchdog, told the home affairs select committee he was “disappointed” and “frustrated” by the home secretary’s lack of engagement since his appointment in March 2021.
Steve Barclay, a Cabinet Office minister tasked to oversee the issue of the rising number of migrants arriving on Britain’s shores, has also declined a meeting, he said.
He told MPs: “I’m disappointed that I’ve not spoken to the Home Secretary, and frustrated because I think I have got things to offer from the position that I hold.”
Neal later told MPs he has not encountered any impact of the Rwanda policy on numbers attempting to cross the Channel in small boats.
A Home Office spokesperson said that Neal had met with other ministers on several occasions. “As the independent inspector for borders made clear, he has met with Home Office ministers on a regular basis and been well served by them.”
• The headline and text of this article were amended on 8 June 2022; there are currently about 30 asylum seekers, not 130, on the list to be flown to Rwanda.