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Friday 15 July 2022

Syrians in the UK call for an end to Rwanda threats

Photo: Priti Patel meeting Syrian refugee children in 2017 when she was Secretary of State for International Development. Photo by Robert Oxley, DFID.

The UK’s Rwanda removals policy threatens vulnerable Syrians, survivors of torture and war.

With the UK Government continuing to threaten asylum seekers with removal to Rwanda, Syrian organisations in the UK have written to Home Secretary Priti Patel.

Many were shocked and surprised when several Syrian asylum seekers were amongst the first to be threatened by the new removals policy. Syrians are known to be fleeing one of the most brutal regimes on the planet.

Incredibly, the UK’s Rwanda removals policy is being run by individuals with clear knowledge of the Assad regime’s brutality.

The current Home Secretary Priti Patel was formerly Secretary of State for International Development from 2016 to 2017, responsible for delivering aid to millions of Syrians who were forced to flee Assad and Putin’s bombs.

And the top civil servant at the Home Office, Permanent Secretary Matthew Rycroft, was previously responsible for Syria aid from 2018 to 2020 as Permanent Secretary for International Development, and he was the British Permanent Representative to the United Nations from 2015 to 2018, where he spoke on the Assad regime’s use of torture and mass murder, its targeting of medics and aid workers.

Despite this, we have already seen Patel and Rycroft put asylum seekers in UK army camps—including Syrians, including injured survivors of Assad’s bombs, including survivors of torture—and we have seen them threaten asylum seekers with dangerous forced pushbacks at sea.

This Government has in the past welcomed tens of thousands of Syrian refugees. Amongst the first Syrian asylum seekers to be listed for removal to Rwanda were ones whose close family members had already been given refuge in the UK. But being Syrian is no protection from this Government’s range of threats towards asylum seekers.

The Rwanda policy is in the process of being challenged in the courts. At the same time the governing Conservative Party is in the process of selecting a new leader—a new Prime Minister for Britain. The press have been briefed that there will be no flights before that election is complete. That’s not good enough. It means the Government is still preparing for removals, still threatening and detaining vulnerable asylum seekers.

We believe the Rwanda removals policy violates the UN Convention for Refugees.

In short, the policy is illegal under international law. When a government puts itself above the law, it is on a path to tyranny, as we see in Syria. So our call is not just for the UK Government to act humanely, it is for the Government to respect the institutions of law and to suspend removals to Rwanda until after the final determination of the lawfulness of their policy, in national and international courts.

Below is the letter in full. PDF version here.

The Right Honourable Priti Patel
Secretary of State for the Home Department
Home Office, 2 Marsham Street, London SW1P 4DF

public.enquiries@homeoffice.gov.uk ; withammp@parliament.uk

14 July 2022

Dear Ms Patel

Re. Continued threat of flights to Rwanda

We, members and supporters of the Syrian community, write to you to express our deep concern about the continued threat to asylum seekers of forced removal to Rwanda.

Despite the Order of the European Court of Human Rights of 14 June forbidding removal to Rwanda, and the consequent cancellation of that evening’s flight, you stated to the House of Commons on the following day that ‘preparations for future flights have already begun.’

On July 12, the Times, citing unnamed officials, reported that ‘preparations for a second flight to Rwanda have been put on hold until after the Conservative Party has elected a new Prime Minister’, since a flight would ‘generate too much controversy during the leadership contest.’

That is an acknowledgment that flights were being planned despite the Order of the European Court and in advance of the lawfulness of the policy being tested in the national courts. And also that such a policy is controversial, even among Conservative voters.

However welcome, the suspension does not go nearly far enough. Firstly it has not to date been confirmed by yourself or other Government officials speaking on the record; secondly it is a suspension only until there is a new Conservative leader; and thirdly it is clear that preparations continue for a further flight.

Such preparation means that scores of asylum seekers continue to be given letters of intent to remove them without hearing their claim, and to be detained pending removal. This causes immense distress and further traumatisation of already vulnerable and traumatised people.

Many are Syrians, new members of our community, with family and friends here, who no longer have any option but to take dangerous journeys by truck or boat. They are fleeing the same dangers, the same catastrophe, the same regime, as earlier Syrian arrivals.

The Government recognised until recently the particular vulnerability of Syrians by devising safe routes. It is entirely inconsistent to have first welcomed Syrian refugees, and to now punish them when there is no longer a safe route. The same can be said of other new arrivals: Sudanese, Afghans and others whose asylum claims are accepted as perfectly legitimate but who are now punished for the lack of safe passage to asylum.

We consider that your Rwanda policy is inhumane and contrary to your obligations under the UN Convention for Refugees. We ask you, at the very least, to respect national and international law by giving a public guarantee now that no flights to Rwanda will be arranged until after the final determination of the lawfulness of your policy, in national and international courts.

Yours sincerely

Waad Al-Kateab, Action For Sama

Dr Fadel Moghrabi, Peace and Justice for Syria

Moaz El Sayed, Rethink Rebuild Society

Sama Kiki, Syrian Legal Development Programme

Mohammed Ateek, Syria Solidarity Campaign

Batool Abdulkareem, Syria Solidarity UK