Home Office bids to keep parts of Rwanda asylum seekers plan a secret

Ahead of a High Court hearing the Home Office wants to keep about 10 extracts from two documents a secret

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The Home Office has made a bid to keep parts of documents related to plans to deport some asylum seekers to Rwanda secret, the High Court has heard.

Several asylum seekers, the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) and charities Care4Calais, Detention Action and Asylum Aid are challenging the Home Office over proposals to provide one-way tickets to the east African country.

Ahead of the main hearing in the challenge due in September, the Home Office has brought a bid to keep about 10 extracts from two documents secret, including from the lawyers for the asylum seekers, and charities and the union.

On Tuesday, the court heard that the Home Office had asked for someone in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) with knowledge of the region to review their Country Policy and Information Note for Rwanda – a document produced to summarise conditions in the country.

One of the hotels where asylum seekers would be housed
One of the hotels where asylum seekers would be housed

The Home Office is claiming public interest immunity on parts of the independent reviewer’s response, in an email and comments added to the draft, preventing them from being shared.

Neil Sheldon QC, for the department, told the court that there would be a “potential of very significant harm” to international relations and national security issues if the extracts were disclosed.

In written submissions, Mr Sheldon said that the redacted material “comprises expressions of opinion, of a general nature”, adding: “The commentary it contains amounts to nothing more or less than the un-referenced opinion of this particular individual.”

However, Christopher Knight, representing eight individuals, PCS, Detention Action and Care4Calais, opposed the bid, along with other claimants and three media organisations.

Demonstrators protest outside the Home Office in London against plans to send migrants to Rwanda
Demonstrators protest outside the Home Office in London against plans to send migrants to Rwanda

In written submissions, the barrister said that the Home Office has already provided “a significant array of evidence addressing the critical views advanced by the Government about the government of Rwanda”.

Mr Knight said it was important for the court to decide whether the redactions “go materially beyond or differ from the public criticisms made” about the Rwandan government by the UK.

In court, the barrister quoted from one of the documents written by the unnamed Foreign Office official, where they said that torture and “even killings” are accepted in an unredacted comment.

The claim for public interest immunity was supported by Foreign Office minister Graham Stuart.

In written evidence, Mr Stuart said that disclosing the full documents would cause serious harm “primarily but not exclusively” to the UK’s relationship with the Rwandan government.

He added that sharing the contents of the extracts would also harm national security “in light of Rwanda’s status as a valuable strategic partner to the United Kingdom across a range of issues including regional security, the maintenance of a strong coalition in support of Ukraine and combating the activities of criminal gangs engaged in illegal immigration”.

However, in written submissions, Mr Knight argued it was “implausible” for the redactions to contain anything that could harm national security related to supporting Ukraine.

Lord Justice Lewis said he hoped to give a judgment on the Home Office’s bid by Wednesday afternoon.

At a hearing in July, the judge said that the main hearing will go ahead from September 5 for five days, with a second hearing in the claim brought by Asylum Aid taking place in October.