The Council of Europe has called on the United Kingdom not to proceed with its plans to launch flights to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda, warning of the risks the policy could pose to their safety and human rights.
In a report published today by the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, it warned that the UK’s Illegal Migration Act and the migration and economic development partnership between Britain and Rwanda “raise multiple concerns over the treatment of vulnerable persons”.
The report’s publication follows the Committee’s 11-day visit to the UK in March and April last year, in an effort to examine immigration detention conditions in the UK. It came particularly at a time when the British Home Office aims to significantly increase the number of asylum seekers it locks up before its planned implementation of their forced removal to Rwanda.
Amongst the Committee’s findings were that the UK’s current number of detention spaces for asylum seekers amounts to 2,245, which the government aims to expand by another 1,000 places.
The report also highlighted the risks that the Illegal Migration Act puts asylum seekers in upon their arrival to the UK itself, namely that it enables the easier removal of those arriving without a valid visa “by stripping away a series of fundamental safeguards” that they should be granted.
Upon their removal or deportation to a country such as Rwanda, which has been criticised by many as inadequate in the protection of human rights, the migrants and refugees may be subject to torture and inhuman or degrading treatment, the report said.
The Committee’s report also raised concerns regarding detainees who have certain vulnerabilities, as highlighted in a process in immigration detention known as rule 35, which rules that they are at particular risk of torture or suicide. Once they are granted bail, according to the report, their rule 35 categorisation is no longer counted in official statistics even if they remain in detention centres for several months longer. That means “official statistics cannot be considered accurate” and could lead to the prolonged detention of people deemed unfit for it.
In response to the findings and warnings published by the Council of Europe’s Committee, unnamed British officials were quoted by The Guardian newspaper as saying that the “UK government does not recognise much of the content of this report and feels it does not accurately reflect the important work we undertake to ensure the safety and well-being of those in our care”.
The officials were reportedly satisfied that the Rwanda plan was entirely in line with international refugee and human rights law, and that the courts had recently found lawful the principle of removal to a safe third country. That was despite the UK Supreme Court ruling back in November that the Rwanda scheme was unlawful, and that it was not a safe country to send asylum seekers to.