Judge says UK govt must disclose some Rwanda asylum advice
A judge ordered the British government Wednesday to reveal parts of the advice it received about a plan to send asylum-seekers to Rwanda — information it had hoped to keep secret.
But in a partial victory for the government, the judge said some of the material can be withheld from the public.
Several asylum-seekers, aid groups and a border officials’ union are taking legal action against the government over the deportation agreement reached with Rwanda in April.
Under the deal, Britain plans to send some migrants who arrive in the U.K. as stowaways or in small boats to Rwanda, where their asylum claims would be processed. If the applicants are granted asylum, they would stay in the African country rather than returning to the U.K.
Britain says the policy will deter people-trafficking gangs who ferry migrants across the English Channel. Human rights groups say it is unworkable and inhumane to send people thousands of miles to a country they don’t want to live in.
Lawyers for the claimants say U.K. diplomats advised the government not to choose Rwanda for the plan because of the country’s poor human rights record, including allegations of torture and killings of government opponents.
The U.K. government has tried to keep anyone, including the claimants’ lawyers, from seeing 10 sections of documents from a Foreign Office official expressing views about the proposal. It says there is the “potential of very significant harm” to international relations and national security if they are disclosed.
Judge Clive Lewis ruled that a majority of the extracts could be disclosed but four should be withheld. He said the harm done by making them public “is not outweighed by having that particular extract available to the court assessing the lawfulness of the decisions, and the policy, in issue in these cases.”
Britain’s government has argued that while Rwanda was the site of a genocide that killed more than 800,000 people in 1994, the country has since built a reputation for stability and economic progress. Critics say that stability comes at the cost of political repression.
Britain already has paid Rwanda 120 million pounds ($145 million) but no one has been sent there as part of the deal. The U.K. was forced to cancel the first deportation flight at the last minute in June after the European Court of Human Rights ruled the plan carried “a real risk of irreversible harm.”
A full hearing in the challenge to the Rwanda plan is scheduled to take place next month.