The Home Office is claiming that asylum seekers are “fine” with being sent to Rwanda, even after they have threatened to kill themselves in detention as they wait to be removed to Africa, according to internal documents seen by the Observer.
They reveal that Home Office officials described how an individual being held in immigration detention “was fine with going there [Rwanda]” days after he had threatened to commit suicide amid anxiety he would never see his children again.
After the Home Office said the Afghan detainee was OK with being sent 4,500 miles to east Africa, he attempted to commit suicide twice; once by drinking shampoo and once by hanging himself. Last week, he told volunteers that he was planning to throw himself off the third floor of Colnbrook immigration removal centre at Heathrow.
Clare Moseley, founder of the charity Care4Calais, which has looked after 125 asylum seekers who have been told they will be deported to Rwanda, accused the Home Office of creating an alternative reality to suit its “cruel” agenda.
She said: “It is deeply shocking that the Home Office is saying that someone who is suffering extreme mental anguish due to fear over their future and that of their children is fine with being forcibly removed to Rwanda when the extent of their distress so clearly demonstrates the opposite. The Home Office is denying reality.”
Priti Patel’s policy of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda has been described by critics as “absolutely shameful” and one of the most pernicious in the Conservative party’s recent history. Even so, all Tory leadership candidates have promised to keep the policy in an attempt to appeal to members of the party who, opinion polls suggest, are in favour.
On Saturday campaigners gathered outside the two immigration centres at Heathrow – Colnbrook and Harmondsworth – to demand a stop to the Rwanda flights, with further demonstrations reported in Brighton, Cardiff and Manchester.
Documents completed by detention staff at Colnbrook reveal that on 20 June a man who was being held pending removal to Rwanda “made threats to kill himself” after demanding to see a doctor. The following day, paperwork shows that the man appears to have been moved to a segregation unit of the type which has been criticised by studies for making detainees feel like they are being unfairly punished.
“[Detainee] stated that he does not care why he is in detention or CSU [care and separation unit], he only cares about his mental health and his children,” states an assessment by detention officials.
However, the Home Office reading of the situation portrays a father perfectly willing to be sent to Rwanda despite his concern that he may never again see his two children, who are currently in Germany with his wife.
Under a section titled “Home Office comments”, a Colnbrook document states: “The DET [detention engagement team] officer conveyed to him that he had been served with the paperwork and was due to be removed to Rwanda. He was fine with going there or Afghanistan provided we assist him with his mental health issues.”
Days earlier, on 14 June, the first flight due to take asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda was cancelled minutes before take-off after a late intervention from the European court of human rights.
Undeterred, Patel told MPs that the government was committed to sending asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda and that plans for future flights had started.
Moseley said her charity had received complaints that detainees served with removal notices to Rwanda had claimed they had not had access to adequate medical help.
She said that one developed a skin rash so severe they couldn’t sleep and no one else in detention would sit near them, but claimed they hadn’t received suitable treatment.
Last week, preparations for a second migrant flight to Rwanda were put on hold until after the Tories have elected a new prime minister.
The high court has also delayed until September a hearing of a crucial judicial review of the policy scheduled for this Tuesday, with Downing Street conceding that it would generate too much controversy during the leadership contest.
The delay means that the Home Office is likely to release dozens of asylum seekers who are in detention pending removal to Rwanda because individuals can be held only if there is a “reasonable” prospect of them being removed imminently.
According to Moseley, 46 people have so far been released from detention, with another 79 still being held.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “No one will be relocated [to Rwanda] if it is inappropriate or unsafe for them. We take the wellbeing and safety of those in our care incredibly seriously and have dedicated welfare teams across all sites who can escalate any instances of mental health or illness.
“There are also robust safeguarding measures in place to ensure everyone within our care, including vulnerable people, is treated with dignity and has access to the support they need.”
July 17, 2022 at 11:58AM Mark Townsend Home Affairs Editor