‘Callous’ Home Office warns torture victims they face deportation

After home secretary Priti Patel overcame a high court legal challenge, ‘vulnerable and at risk’ asylum seekers are among those who could be on the first flight to Rwanda this week

Torture victims who have been officially recognised by doctors as “vulnerable and at risk” are being told by the Home Office that they face being deported to Rwanda, the Observer can reveal.

At least one asylum seeker who has been informed by the Home Office they may be on the first flight to the east African country, scheduled to depart this Tuesday, has been assessed as likely to have been a victim of torture.

Campaigners condemned the “callousness” of the Home Office and said its intention to deport recognised torture victims 4,500 miles to another continent was a “breathtaking” new low.

Documents seen by the Observer reveal that individuals currently held in immigration detention and assessed by specialist medics as having “injuries and scars consistent with torture” are among those told that they are likely to be deported to Africa.

The disclosure comes as the home secretary, Priti Patel, overcame a legal challenge to the policy of deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda after a high court judge ruled that the first flight could proceed this week.

Campaigners have confirmed they will take the case to the court of appeal on Monday. The policy has been roundly criticised on human rights grounds. Reports emerged on Saturdaythat Prince Charles has privately condemned it as “appalling”.

The disclosure that torture victims are among those Patel wants to deport will be seen by many as another bleak milestone in her attempts to act tough on asylum.

Documents, dated 10 June, reveal that an asylum seeker – assessed by specialists as a likely torture victim – was informed that their claim was likely to be rejected, which meant they were “facing removal directions for relocation to Rwanda”.

They also reveal the speed with which the Home Office is determined to deport new arrivals by small boats across the Channel.

One individual from Sudan, who reached the UK by small boat on 14 May, was immediately detained. Three days later, the Home Office sent a “biographic information request” to Rwanda, and four days after that the asylum seeker was served a notice of intent to remove.

On 28 May, the Rwandan authorities “accepted” the transfer, with the Home Office stating “the only known barrier to your relocation to Rwanda” was a legal challenge by his lawyers.

Clare Moseley of charity Care4Calais, which is supporting many of the 31 people who have been told they may be on the first flight this week, said: “Hearing the stories of people who will be sent to Rwanda is enough to give you nightmares.

“Stories of wars, fighting, torment and abuse. It’s deeply shocking that the UK may subject these victims to further trauma. The callousness of deporting torture victims is breathtaking. Be in no doubt of the suffering this is causing – people are trying to kill themselves in the detention centres. We are in very dark territory.”

Another individual from Sudan told medics that he was beaten with sticks and a metal bar and held for two months, then years later “arrested and imprisoned” while crossing Libya, notorious for traffickers.

A Home Office document states: “It is accepted that the [torture] evidence provided meets level 2 of the adults at risk in immigration detention policy and as such, you are regarded as an at at risk under the policy.”

Level 2 of the policy indicates “professional evidence of torture”. The government’s adults at risk policy was introduced in 2016 to keep traumatised adults out of detention with the “vulnerable and at risk” classification involving an individual “suffering from a condition, or who has experienced a traumatic event (such as trafficking, torture or sexual violence)”.

Others are also concerned that large numbers of those whom the Home Office wants to deport may not even be subject to a medical examination to determine if they are a victim of torture because of delays in carrying out the assessments, known as rule 35.

Detention law states that a rule 35 report must be prepared on any person whose mental or physical health is likely to worsen as a result of being held in detention..

Sheroy Zaq, a solicitor within the public law and immigration departments at legal firm Duncan Lewis, said: “We know there are delays with rule 35 reports at immigration removal centres, which opens up a real risk of individuals not being able to obtain evidence of torture or suicidal ideation.

“Even if they do have that evidence, the secretary of state doesn’t give a timeframe when it’s going to be considered.”

Zaq added that when there was evidence of torture, and removal directions had been given, the Home Office said that the evidence would be “considered before the flight takes off”.

He said: “​​But what if you give a negative decision half an hour before the flight is due to take off? What chance does that individual have to adequately access justice?”

A full judicial review – where the high court will hear a challenge to the Rwanda policy as a whole – is to be heard before the end of July.

A Home Office spokesperson said its partnership with Rwanda fully complied with international and national law.

They added: “We have now issued formal directions to the first group of people due to be relocated to Rwanda later this month. Nobody will be removed if it is unsafe or inappropriate for them.”


Mark Townsend Home Affairs Editor

The GuardianTramp

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