Civil servants at the Home Office have used an internal online noticeboard to protest against the government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.
Staff have called for industrial action in a bid to stop the policy with one long-term employee expressing a sense of “deep shame” and a desire to work elsewhere, according to the Mail, which has seen the messages, and the Guardian.
Under home secretary Priti Patel’s plan, thousands of asylum seekers could be sent to the east African country, in which a genocide took place 25 years ago. Even if their asylum claims are accepted they will not be permitted to return to the UK. The UN is among organisations that have criticised the scheme and described it as illegal.
One civil servant felt their situation was analogous to working for the Third Reich, but was criticised by colleagues for making an absurd comparison. The employee had written: “The words ‘I was only obeying orders’ are echoing down through history to me and making me queasy.”
Among many posts by employees, one stated: “Somewhere down the road, when the inevitable ‘What went wrong with Rwandan outsourcing?’ inquiry takes place, the Home Office cannot say that nobody spoke up at the time. We’re speaking up – this is a bad idea. Don’t do it! I think a lot of staff feel this way.”
A colleague replied: “Go on strike.”
One Home Office employee asked whether colleagues had a duty to protest against the policy. They wrote: “Do we have a responsibility to not just leave, but to organise and resist? We cannot simply wash our hands and walk away.”
Another asked: “I find the government proposal totally unethical and it impacts directly upon my workstream. As a civil servant can I refuse this type of work in contravention of my own ethics?”
A further employee said: “I’ve worked for the Home Office for 20 years. There’s been some ups and downs in that time. But this announcement has made me feel deep shame and is the first time I am considering my position here and whether I need to get out of this department.”
One staffer said they felt they could no longer reveal who they worked for when away from the job: “Can the permanent secretary and seniors give staff any advice on coping with our conscience with these sort of policies? I don’t feel safe telling people I work for the Home Office any more and now just make up a non-descript role in another government department when asked what I do for a job.”
A Home Office source has confirmed that the reports of the unrest are correct and will be addressed by Home Office permanent secretary, Matthew Rycroft, during an online group call for staff.
Tory MP Andrew Bridgen defended the home secretary. He told the Mail: “This just shows what Priti Patel is up against on a constant basis. Elected governments set the policy and it’s for the civil service to implement that policy.”
In March last year the government settled a bullying case against Patel with a £340,000 plus legal costs payout to Sir Philip Rutnam. The former civil servant had accused the home secretary of creating a climate of fear at the Home Office and of orchestrating a campaign against him personally.
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