Court of Appeal finds government’s cash for humans Rwanda deal unlawful
Today, the Court of Appeal has declared the government’s plan to send refugees to Rwanda unlawful. This comes a day after the House of Lords voted in favour of an amendment to the government’s flagship Refugee Ban Bill that will require them to abide by a series of international human rights obligations. These 2 separate defeats leaves the government’s cruel anti-refugee agenda in tatters.
The Court itself held that the Rwandan asylum system did not adequately protect refugees from return to countries where they faced persecution. This means that Rwanda is not, despite UK government claims to the contrary, a “safe country” for refugees and in turn means that attempts by the government to remove refugees to Rwanda would be a breach of article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Article 3 imposes an absolute prohibition on torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and states cannot under any circumstances derogate from this legal obligation. As the consequence of exiling refugees to Rwanda could see them returned to countries where they faced such abuse, the UK government is therefore prohibited from carrying out such removals.
Rather than accept the Court’s judgment, the UK government has already confirmed it will appeal to the Supreme Court. This will see yet more public money wasted on what has already been a hugely expensive and thus far unsuccessful policy, with even the government’s own assessment concluding that removing a single person would cost £169,000.00.
Whilst thankfully no one has yet been removed to Rwanda under the scheme, its impact has still been felt by refugees. RAMFEL clients have since the scheme’s announcement in May 2022 repeatedly told our staff how the scheme caused them fear and anxiety, and the message from the government to those seeking sanctuary could not have been less welcoming. This damage will be hard to undo, especially as the government shows no sign of abandoning this policy.
For now though, all in the sector should celebrate this victory, which is crucial for the rule of law and human rights in the UK, but also for basic kindness and decency towards those who’ve left their home seeking safety.
If the government is serious about actually improving the UK’s asylum system, there are a number of steps they could take immediately:
Tony waited years for his asylum claim to be decided. We spoke to him about his experience, his future, and how he can use his experience to educate and help others who have similar experiences going through the asylum system. He also spoke about his views of asylum policy and the direction it is heading. We urge the government to listen to him, and others who have experienced it first-hand.
How does it feel to have refugee status after all these years?
When my solicitor called me, I was screaming I was so happy. I have been through a lot. I am so happy that I have my status. I now know that I have a very bright future ahead of me. I can go back to college or uni, start everything again. I have everything ahead of me again. If you are still in the system waiting for the process, you are still happy but worried about the outcome. But once you have status, the joy and future plans start working for you straight away.
My friend told me I can travel to any countries and I said why would I go back to Ghana, it was not good for me. I want to fight for others like me. I wouldn’t go back there unless it completely changed.
I am very happy for the outcome. The law that they are bringing is not going to help in any way. It’s not fair. The only thing I can think of. I remember at one time they were telling Ghanaians and other countries to legalise LGBT, and they said that if they didn’t, they wouldn’t help those countries with money. But they don’t realise that it’s not the government, it’s the individuals, it’s the people who don’t allow LGBT people to exist.
What do you think about the government’s policy to refuse applications from any country that they consider to be safe?
That is very bad. I can use myself as an example. With all that I have been going through for these years. I cannot go back to my country. The US and UK have tried to make LGBT legal in my country, but the people are saying no. The government can implement it, but if the chief and kings there don’t say yes, it won’t help. And I know a few people who are in the same situation as me from Ghana, and it’s hard for them to even come out here. Only a few people here know about my situation, otherwise I can’t talk about it. People are still begin killed in Ghana for coming out as LBGT. So telling people that they can’t be refugees is not going to help at all. The government has to know that nobody decides the sexuality that you are, you are born with it, and you start to know it as you are growing up and becoming an adult. Many people can’t talk about these kinds of things in the Ghanaian and Nigerian communities for example. I don’t understand their point that Ghanaians can’t claim asylum from those backgrounds. It’s a wrong law which they are trying to bring in. many people will be very disappointed and let down.
One of the things I want to do now is to educate lots of Ghanaians to show them that they can do this, that they can come out, and use myself as an example. I go to charities and hardly see people coming forward because they are scared to come out. It’s something that I really want to do, to educate especially Ghanaians and Nigerians as I know what they are going through, I have been around these communities. I don’t think this is right in any sense.
Now that I know this the next step I want to do is to try to help other Ghanaians and others from west African countries to show them there is an opportunity to be who they are, to stop hiding their sexuality and everything. I am tired of hiding, I went through this but it was not easy. It was years that I was going through this process.
I want people to know, I want them to make it clear that this is where I come from and I was one of the lucky ones.
If somebody is able to fight and to come here, then what is the point? Someone comes to live their life here and then you say no, because of their country? That is totally unfair.
It wasn’t easy coming out and telling my family and friends, but I had to do it because it’s who I am.
Is there anything that you’d like to say to the government about the asylum system:
The asylum system in Britain to be honest is very poor and very very bad. Because unlike in other countries, you are not allowed to work. When I was waiting for a decision I couldn’t work. It’s only recently that I heard that if you are in the system for a year you can apply for a work permit but even then, the hours that you can do and the jobs that you can do are limited.
Most people that apply for asylum are educated in the country that they came from. And most people have anything to do in the day time or in the night time. They just hang around. But if they were allowed to work, then the government wouldn’t be saying that there aren’t enough people in the country to do the jobs. There are a lot of people in the country, especially asylum seekers – because I’ve been in the system a long time – there are a lot of people that are skilled. And because the government says that they can’t work, they are just hanging around. They could be helping the country a lot.
Because the money they give you in the hotel accommodation, they give you £9 a week. Excuse me, you can’t even buy a week bus pass. So how do they expect people to go round, and do their personal things, to buy their hygiene, to buy the food that they want to eat. You can’t do anything. But if they are allowed to work, they can help, and the government can keep the £9. The government could say, ok, I’ve stopped giving you the £9, now you have to work, earn your own money. That would be very helpful. And a lot of asylum seekers are ready to work, to look after themselves, and take care of their families. That’s the main thing the government has to look at.
Ana endured months of dreadful conditions in an East London hotel while heavily pregnant. She sent us a number of videos of rats in her hotel room, moving around among her belongings. The Home Office agreed to move Ana out of hotel accommodation because she was heavily pregnant. However, upon arrival to the address, by that time with her newborn baby, she was told the property would not be suitable, and was required to move back to the hotel. She chose to speak out about her experience “so that no one in the same situation will stay quiet because of fear.”
We are an asylum seeking family who arrived in the country in December 2022. They gave us accommodation. On the day we arrived we were welcomed in a room that was dirty, with plagues of rats and bedbugs. We asked for help because I was pregnant and the conditions we were in were harmful.
We had to call migrant help and they told us that we should talk to the hotel staff, with whom we had already spoken.
We were very worried about this situation and we had to call again, but we didn’t receive an answer.
Then the hotel staff moved us from room to room but the problem with the rats continued. They moved us to a third room, and there were still rats.
We did report all of this to the hotel manager many times, and he didn’t do anything about it, he just said that we called migrant help and they didn’t help either.
Because of the situation and all the stress and worrying, I got sick. I was admitted to the hospital with back pain and then got chicken pox because all the medication I was taking affected my liver.
When they discharged me from the hospital, the food was hurting me, so I went back to the hotel manager to see whether they could change my food. He told me that was not possible, so I resorted to calling Migrant Help to see if they could solve it, because I wasn’t eating, and what’s more, the problem of rats continued every day. There were more rats and my pregnancy was classified as high risk. And still they didn’t want to help me.
Even my midwife called and she did everything she could, and she didn’t have an answer from the hotel either as migrant help and the Home Office, so she put me in touch with RAMFEL.
RAMFEL helped me ny getting me transferred to a suitable accommodation so that I could cook my own food. Thanks to RAMFEL we are already physically and mentally well. Living with pests was too much, we were desperate and exhausted every day, having to keep watch that the rats aren’t biting our things or going close to our food. It was ugly to live like this.
RAMFEL helped me by getting food vouchers for us, since I didn’t eat at the hotel. I am very grateful for the help they have given us, they were aware of my case and they understood.
I am telling my experience so that no one in the same situation will stay quiet because of fear. Thanks to everyone at RAMFEL for providing help to families in desperate circumstances.
On the second day of refugee week, Jonathan* speaks about his experience of living, and bringing up a baby, while being shunted around poor quality hotel accommodation. While he has positive things to say about the UK, the picture he paints is a bleak one. As somebody who has met and lived with many people in a similar situation, he set out changes that need to be made to the wider asylum and immigration system.
People are suffering in the hotels. My baby is really suffering, with lots of issues. She has health problems. We had to go through lots, running from hospital to hospital to hospital. I am not able to cope with seeing my kid and my wife suffering. My baby is really skinny as well, she was healthy before. It’s because of everything – the food, the environment, everything. You can’t particularly point out one issue.
I feel suffocated. Because I am from Asia… I don’t eat this type of food that they are providing us. We don’t have any option, they just give us some things and we have to eat it. I have got health issues so I can’t eat a lot of food and whenever I eat this kind of food I get into trouble. We don’t have any option though, it’s eat or go hungry.
Me and some of the caseworkers pushed to get out of the hotel and we had to go through lots of processes, it’s not easy. I know that it’s not just about me and about the thousands of people who are just waiting and suffering but… the real thing from my eyes is the small kids who are just going through their childhood stuck in hotels. Ask anyone, if you speak to any person living in London who is in the hotels they will all say the same thing.
They have to speed up the process. We are family people, and we have been dragged through and we just have to run from one place to another. Sometimes people are waiting for 2-3 years. If the process was a little bit quicker, that would be much better. I am just hoping that my case will have a green signal.
The UK is a good place, I never had any complaint about this country, it is a beautiful place and a beautiful country and with all the people here I have never faced any really bad issues. I don’t have any complaint about that. Everyone is helpful to each other, that is a blessing. The issue is the accommodation.
Asylum seekers should be allowed to work. I recently read in the newspaper that after 6 months asylum seekers may be allowed to work but then after that I didn’t see that news again. When I talk to people who are in the hotels, they say, if they allow us to work, we are going to pay taxes, so the government is going to earn more money. But if they just leave us here, what is going to happen? Nothing. Mentally we have lots of issues and everything so we are thinking about all those things and we are just wasting our time. So for people like us, if we could work, we can pay the tax to the government, we would be more than happy.
If the people who are here are allowed to work by the government they can cut down the employer shortages. We read that employers have shortages, the lorry drivers are not there, the fruit pickers are not there, people saying we don’t have the labour. So all these problems the government has will vanish, and they don’t need to hire from another country when they have people already here who are waiting. So if they give a green signal to us to work, they don’t have to go anywhere in the world, they have got good workers here, in the hotels.
The people coming in a lorry or boat, they don’t have anywhere to go. If they are going to stay where they are, they will be killed. So they have got a reason, and they should be allowed to come. And if they have lived in this country more than 10 years, there should be a law to let them stay, because they have made their life here, and if they are thrown out of the country they will have nowhere. So the Home Secretary has to come up with a plan, that if you have spent this many years in the UK, then you can stay. There should be a proper plan, they can’t just have one day this law one day another.
I am really thankful to RAMFEL, because they supported me throughout my hard times, and there was lots of things going on in my life and they stood for me.
For each day of refugee week, we are showcasing five stories, letters, statements from people who have come to the UK to seek asylum. All have had vast set out what a more humane asylum system would look like. If the government wants to fix the mess that it has created, it desperately needs to listen to those directly affected.
We begin with a powerful letter to the Home Secretary by Leila*, who has been waiting over a year for a decision on her asylum claim.
Dear Home Secretary,
I came to the UK over four years ago, and claimed asylum over a year ago because it became unsafe for me in my home country. I want to bring to your attention a number of problems with the asylum system which I have experienced.
Since I claimed asylum over a year ago, I have only had the screening interview. Not the substantive interview. My children and my husband are still in my home country and they are not safe where they are, but it is not safe to move. We have no option, and because I do not yet have refugee status in the UK, I cannot bring them here. I am worried about their safety, and feeling guilty because my children are not with me, but it is not safe for me to go back to them.
Since I came to the UK, I have been safe, and I am grateful for that. However, I have experienced many problems.
After I claimed asylum, I lived in a hotel for one year. Let me tell you, it is not a luxury to live in a hotel. I struggled with my mental health, I wasn’t allowed to work. Even though I have 14 years’ experience working in the humanitarian field, in the UK I wasn’t allowed to do anything.
You don’t know how many horrible situations I was in, in the hotel, living alone, not eating, having illusion, always anxious and worrying about what will happen with me here, my children, what is my future, if I come back what will happen.
I lived one year in a hotel and after one year they relocated me. But you don’t know what I’ve been through. It was awful, I was always sending emails to Migrant Help and the Home Office. There is no access to the home Office to explain my story.
And why have I been waiting over a year for my second asylum interview? I have children, and my children are at risk in my home country. It feels like the Home Office doesn’t care about my children and their mental health, or my mental health.
We hear that the government is spending money on hotels. But where does this money go? The hotels are not clean. I have OCD and spend a lot of time cleaning on my own, there is no healthy food. I was healthy before but in this country I increased like 10 kilos and I have high cholesterol, back pain, menstrual problems, and I am taking medication for depression and sleeping. All of this is because of living in 2 hotels.
While I was living in the hotel, the Home Office provided me with £8 per week. What can I do? As a female living alone there are many things that I need and £8 is just not enough.
Since I moved out of the hotel, I am now on £45 per week. This is still not enough – it is impossible for me to travel to visit and support my sister. It would be better if you let me work, instead of force me to accept government aid of £45. I know that this country needs skilled people. Many asylum seekers are educated and they can support themselves, if you let them. Or you can train them to do the jobs that your country needs. Then the government wouldn’t have to pay this money to asylum seekers, they would be able to use their own money to support themselves, and pay taxes like any person in this country. I don’t know why they have this rule which has put my life back one year.
I have masters in psychology and I have wide experience working with different projects in the humanitarian field. I don’t know why. I can’t just sit here and do nothing.
I do not agree with your new policy to stop people claiming asylum. Because how can people who have protection concerns in their country, where they are at risk of harm, come here? This is the question. Because it is so difficult to enter this country. I came here because I have a job, I have an income, I have position, I have invitation from the government to come as a witness to support my sister. But if poepel didn’t have all these things, how can they reach this country to seek asylum? For sure, it’s very hard for them to do this. I don’t know how they reached this decision, or how they will take this decision, or what is going to happen to all these people.
Please, Home Secretary, let us proceed more quickly in the process of asylum. And to get the decision of yes or no, and if no then let people go to another safe place. Because they came here because they thought that this country would protect them. My request really is to proceed quickly in this process. People are struggling, doing nothing. And if people are going to have to wait 1 year, 2 years, 3 years, then maybe they can work. And those people would be useful for this country. Let them work until this decision can be taken. Everything is expensive here and £45 a week is nothing.
A year and a half ago I never imagined that I would be having phone calls using interpreters for five different languages, making emergency children’s Social Services referrals, writing to prominent local MPs, poring over videos of rats, and booking dentist appointments: all in a normal working day.
After starting at RAMFEL as the administrator in January 2022, I became fascinated by what the organisation does, and at the beginning of this year I became a caseworker in our Refugee and Asylum Seeker team. In this team, we support refugees and asylum seekers with ‘casework and destitution support’. This involves issues to do with accommodation, benefits, daily welfare, and access to employment, schools, and healthcare.
It is rewarding being able to work with clients day to day on some of their most basic and essential living needs. But as someone who did not have experience in the migrant sector prior to starting at RAMFEL (other than small bits and pieces of volunteering), I have found a lot surprising and shocking. I still have a huge amount to learn – from my colleagues and from my clients. But at this early stage I wanted to share some of the things I have found most aggravating about the way people like my clients are treated in the UK.
The majority of my work with asylum seeking clients involves advocacy around accommodation. As asylum seekers do not have the right to work, many are destitute, and have to be supported in Home Office accommodation. This can take the form of camps, barracks, and – in the case of my clients – repurposed hotels. Conditions in these hotels are often inhumanely terrible. Mould, bedbugs, food poisoning… Mice in the rooms are commonplace, and a couple of my clients have sent me videos of rats.
My job is to gather evidence about what my clients and their families are suffering in these hotels, and then advocate for the Home Office to move them to ‘dispersal accommodation’ (self-contained buildings) with cooking facilities. Apart from in the most drastic emergency cases, this escalation process takes months if not over a year.
Sadly, when dispersal is granted, even that does not always improve things. One client recently was moved to dispersal accommodation, only to discover that it was not only in the middle of nowhere, but also in an advanced state of disrepair, with windows and a front door that did not close, disgustingly dirty floors and facilities, and no gas. It is disgraceful that these obvious issues were not sorted before the family was moved in. After a week of complaints, the accommodation provider gradually began the works, and my client and his wife and toddler are having to go out while the repairs are taking place, to avoid the spraying chemicals.
With no money and nothing to do nearby, hanging around outside the building is their only option. Meanwhile, the private companies who have won the government contracts to manage asylum seeker accommodation make a vast profit. It is very clear to see that they are doing this by using as little of the contracted money as possible on creating humane conditions for the vulnerable people they are paid to accommodate.
When an asylum seeker’s claim is successful, they are granted leave to remain as a refugee. Unfortunately, their issues with destitution and accommodation do not end there. After a grant of status, a refugee is evicted from asylum support accommodation, and given less than a month to leave. Given that these people were not allowed to work and had essentially no income while their claim was pending, it is like starting from zero.
There is a rush to assist the client with opening a bank account, applying for relevant support, getting connected with employment organisations, and – most pressingly of all – looking for accommodation. The first step is always to request a homelessness assessment from the client’s local council. While councils can provide advice to anyone that they deem homeless, they are not obliged to accommodate anyone who is not in priority need, ie. someone with children or who is severely disabled.
For anyone else, the only option is sofa surfing with friends, or to navigate the private rental sector (difficult if benefits are currently your only income as you have understandably been unable to find a job within weeks of finally being granted permission to work). We assist clients by introducing them to housing association properties, but these are few and far between. Many of our refugee clients are therefore homeless, and some are even rough sleepers. It is devastating to me that, after the government finally accepts that their plea for protection is well founded and that they have been given leave to remain in the UK, many of my clients are plunged straight into poverty.
Perhaps it should not have shocked me that our government’s hostility towards migrants is enacted through such an aggressive and unpleasant welcome to life in the country. After all, the Conservatives’ unhealthy obsession with deterring immigration means that every aspect of the asylum seeker’s journey towards rebuilding their life in the UK is tarnished by humiliation, suffering, and disrespect. Luckily for British citizens like me, people like my clients are seeing this difficult process through, and bringing a wealth of diversity, talents, stories, traditions, and new perspectives to our country. It is a privilege to work alongside them on that journey.