According to government sources spoken to by the British daily newspaper, the southern African state is “potentially interested” in being a part of the Home Office’s latest immigration programme, but wants to “wait and see” what happens with Rwanda.
Britain has a £120 million ($150.2 million) agreement in place to remove to Rwanda people trying to gain asylum in the UK while their claims are processed.
The controversial removal policy has been heavily criticised by rights activists and campaigners who say these deportations traumatise already vulnerable people and infringe on their human rights.
The Home Office’s first deportation flight is scheduled to take off on June 14 with 130 passengers.
According to refugee organisations monitoring the situation, there are at least 15 Syrians who fled the war scheduled to be on that flight as well as at least 30 people from Sudan.
There are concerns that unaccompanied children, whom the Home Office has deemed adults, are also on the passenger list.
On Wednesday, charities Care4Calais and Detention Action, along with four asylum seekers and the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) for Border Force staff, launched a legal challenge against the Home Office’s deportation flight to Rwanda.
An application for a judicial review claims that the home secretary’s policy is unlawful. Claimants are also seeking an injunction that will attempt to stop the plane from taking off.
A hearing at the High Court in London is set for Friday.
Removal notices are thought to have been sent to 130 people and lawyers for more than 90 people have already submitted legal challenges asking to stay in the UK.
Care4Calais said the Rwanda removal policy contravened the Human Rights Act and questioned the Home Office’s claims that the east African nation was a “safe third country” for asylum seekers.
“Refugees will not be safe. Rwanda is a dictatorship that imprisons, tortures and murders people who speak out against the government. International human rights groups including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and UNHCR have raised serious concerns. It would be impossible to ensure the safety of people the UK intends to send there,” the charity said on its website about its reasons for launching the legal action.
Detention Action said journalists and political activists “face persecution, imprisonment and even death” in Rwanda, and called the move to deport asylum seekers to the country a form of punishment for “how they cross the border”.
General secretary of the PCS union, Mark Serwotka, said the union was “not prepared” to tolerate its members “being put in potentially dangerous and traumatic situations, where they may be asked to act illegally”.
The government had expected legal challenges after the announcement of the first removal flight and said it was “determined to deliver” on its partnership with Rwanda.
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “Our world-leading partnership with Rwanda is a key part of our strategy to overhaul the broken asylum system.
“We have been clear from the start that we expected legal challenges, however, we are determined to deliver this new partnership.
“We have now issued formal directions to the first group of people due to be relocated to Rwanda later this month. This marks a critical step towards operationalising the policy, which fully complies with international and national law.”
According to The Telegraph, government sources admitted that while there was a “very high” risk the legal action could affect the departure of the first removal flight on June 14, it would still plan to take-off “even if there is just one person” on it because the flight has already been paid for.
Campaigners against the UK’s Rwanda partnership say the full cost of the deportation policy on UK taxpayers is unclear and could be significant.
Under the current deal, Britain will pay the east African country £120 million and the £12,000 cost to send each migrant on a one-way ticket to Rwanda.
Care4Calais says the UK government has not fully costed the removal and detention plans, pointing out that Australia’s offshore scheme has reportedly cost more than £5 billion since it began in 2013.