Priti Patel wants to relaunch controversial small boat ‘pushbacks’ | Immigration and asylum


Survivors of sexual abuse, human slavery and torture are among at least 19 people who have been warned in recent days that they face deportation to Rwanda as the Interior Ministry remains loyal to his “brutal” policies ahead of a major legal challenge this week.

As signs show that Priti Patel’s new immigration plan is faltering, details have emerged about the next cohort of asylum seekers the Home Secretary wants to send on a deportation flight to Africa.

Reports shared by charities say six people were trafficked or tortured, including one who was detained and beaten in a warehouse in the Libyan desert for eight weeks.

Not a single asylum seeker has been sent to Rwanda nearly five months after Patel’s policy was announced. A judicial review of its legality will be heard in the High Court this week.

Another central element of the immigration plan – the establishment of new processing centers for asylum seekers – also appears to have stalled after the Ministry of Defense admitted the Observer that despite assessing 100 different sites for the Home Office since January, it has yet to publicly identify a new one that could be used.

The only site designated as ‘asylum accommodation’ so far – in Linton-on-Ouse, Yorkshire – was abandoned after the Home Office failed to transfer any asylum seekers there and the Ministry of Defense withdrew from the plan.

Meanwhile, attempts by Patel – who, according to reports, could be sacked as Home Secretary – to control the number of small boat crossings are also failing, with record numbers arriving. More than 25,000 have arrived so far this year. A further 3,733 people crossed the Channel in the week to August 28, twice as many for all of 2019.

The Observer may reveal that the government is considering reintroducing its notorious policy of turning back refugees for use against small boats crossing the Channel.

Five months ago, after the heavily criticized policy was officially withdrawn by ministers, documents released under freedom of information laws suggest the government is reconsidering the tactics that have been blamed for the drownings in Greece.

Sophie McCann, Advocacy Officer at Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), said: “It is shameful that the government has ever considered carrying out potentially deadly ‘push-backs’ against people seeking safety.

Clare Moseley of the Care4Calais charity, one of the groups that took legal action this week against Rwanda’s plans, said: “The government’s brutal policy in Rwanda is targeting people who have escaped the worst horrors of this world. Given the more humane and effective options available, is this really what our country wants to do? »

Despite the legal challenge, the government plans to deport 19 people to Rwanda in the coming days. Details of 13 of them were shared by Care4Calais after asylum seeker screening interviews: among them, six are married and two have children.

Among those who shared details of torture in their preliminary questionnaire, one said they had been sexually abused in Iran and another that they had been “detained and threatened with execution if he did not comply with instructions smugglers” on the way to the UK. .

A Sudanese crossing Libya was detained for a month, “humiliated and forced to work without money”, the association said. Of another, the charity said: ‘The smugglers were violent towards him throughout the trip to Turkey; [he was] kept for a week in a small room without food or water.

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said the policy had a profound deleterious impact on the mental health of asylum seekers.

“Every day, through our work, we witness the impact that the threat of deportation to Rwanda is having, particularly on people’s anxiety and mental health, with disturbing reports of young people self-harming “Solomon said.

Department of Defense documents dated August 31, 2022, released under freedom of information laws, reveal that pushbacks and test results on tactics may be part of “future policy regarding real issues surrounding the passage of small boats across the English Channel”.

However, the MoD is refusing to release its assessment of the trials which were carried out off Weymouth, Dorset, in the summer of 2021, raising questions about the actual results as well as transparency concerns.

At a Defense Committee hearing in July, Armed Forces Minister James Heappey admitted Patel and Boris Johnson were persuaded of the merits of the dangerous tactic by its use in Greece, where it has been linked to a number of dead.

“The prime minister, interior minister and government advisers have seen the successful use of pushback tactics elsewhere, primarily in Greece,” Heappey said.

McCann added: “The MSF teams working there [Greece] have seen and heard the terrible damage caused by push-back tactics, including injuries, trauma and people left adrift at sea.

“It is therefore deeply alarming that, despite claiming to have abandoned the policy, this government appears to be leaving the door open to revive it in the future.”

Responding to questions posed ahead of the judicial review of Rwandan politics, Patel said: We expected legal challenges to this innovative plan.

“Those behind these legal challenges have unfortunately delayed the implementation of our partnership and have so far only succeeded in rescuing the smuggling gangs over the summer, which has led to more people boarding flimsy boats and putting their lives at risk in the English Channel.

“Rwanda remains a safe and secure country with a strong track record of supporting asylum seekers. The sooner we can enforce this new policy, the sooner we can break the malicious smugglers’ business model and prevent further loss of life in the English Channel.


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