The PCS union, together with human rights groups have failed in their initial bid to stop the Home Office’s plans to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda.
The legal move was aimed at preventing asylum seekers being flown to the east African country under the controversial policy announced by home secretary Priti Patel in April. The first removal flight, carrying up to 130 people, is scheduled for 14 June.
Home Office staff are said to be angry about their role in implementing the plan and have started an anonymous Twitter group encouraging resistance within the department and have been speaking out against Patel’s plans to the wider media.
Lawyers are acting for about 100 of the asylum seekers to prevent the first flight from taking off. Although late on Friday 10 June the High Court ruled that the flight could go ahead an appeal is expected to be heard on 13 June.
The civil service’s biggest union, the PCS, had joined charity Care4Calais and campaign group Detention Action in acting for four of the asylum seekers and argued that the policy itself, as well as the removal of the four asylum seekers, was unlawful.
The UN’s refugee agency has stated the plans breached international law and failed to meet the required standards of “legality and appropriateness” for transferring asylum seekers from one country to another.
The PCS and campaigners said the Home Office needed to set out the legal basis for the policy in several areas: whether the home secretary had legal authority to carry out the removals; her conclusion that Rwanda was generally a “safe third country” for asylum seekers to live in; and whether the Home Office had made inadequate provision for malaria prevention, and compliance with the Human Rights Act. They said Patel had so far not provided answers.
Solicitors representing PCS, Detention Action and Care4Calais sent a letter before action – the formal start of the process for a judicial review challenge at the High Court – to the Home Office last month. But now the claimants are seeking an injunction to stop next week’s flight as Patel has given no assurances that she will wait for the policy to be tested in court before pressing ahead with flights.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said the Rwanda removals policy showed the government had “learned nothing from the Windrush scandal”, in which Commonwealth nationals with a right to live in the UK were wrongly deported and denied access to services.
“PCS is not prepared to countenance our members being put in potentially dangerous and traumatic situations, where they may be asked to act illegally,” he said.
“PCS is determined to work for a more humane environment on asylum and immigration. This would give our members the time, space and resources that they need to carry out their jobs properly and would improve the experience of refugees. This latest judicial review application is key to that endeavour.”
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.”
Meanwhile, Home Office staff rebelling against the policy have set up a Twitter account called @Our_Home_Office to air grievances over the plans and encourage staff to display ‘Refugees Welcome’ stickers.
The account launched its campaign last month with a poster said to have been posted on an official notice board which reads: “We have the spine to say, ‘no minister’.”
It adds: “No to hostile environments, no to shutting down democracy, no to racist deportations.”
One Home Office worker with long experience of the refugee and asylum department told Sky News they felt ashamed to work for the government because of its asylum seeker plans.
They said there was “disbelief” at the policy within their department – likening it to a form of human trafficking.
The worker said: “It is not only just going to create more hurt for those individuals but internally for the department – despite raising concerns about it, we are being told it’s our duty as civil servants to implement the policy irrespective of our concerns around it.”
The employee added that internally staff had raised concerns with the permanent secretary in the Home Office about how the policy was going to be implemented; whether it was legal; and the impact on families, children, and LGBTQ asylum seekers.
They said most staff were “trying to do a job that means the UK provides safety for refugees from across the world – we are in it to try and make people’s lives better. But we feel like we are being forced to implement a policy that is the opposite of that and most staff disagree with that.”
A Home Office spokesperson said the Home Office was committed to constructive conversations with staff on its policies and said: “Our world-leading partnership with Rwanda is a key part of our strategy to overhaul the broken asylum system and break the evil people-smugglers’ business model.”
On Friday (10 June) it emerged that the government had cancelled the removal directions for three people who had asked the High Court to prevent their deportation. In the hearing, it emerged two more people will also have them cancelled.
However, it was later confirmed that the High Court had ruled that the flight could go ahead. Yvette Cooper, Labour shadow home secretary, in response, wrote on Twitter that the plan was “unworkable, unethical, extortionately expensive, and profoundly un-British”.