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Rwanda: Civil servants file suit in court over new law

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Comment on the photo, Rwanda's scheme is designed to act as a deterrent to small boat crossings

The union of senior civil servants launches an unprecedented legal challenge to Rwanda's ministers' plan.

The US Food and Drug Administration said it was intervening because it feared the plan to send some asylum seekers to Rwanda would force officials to break the law.

Under a new law, ministers can ignore the European Court of Human Rights and direct officials to regulate flights.

The union wants the Supreme Court to rule on whether this element would put civil servants in a difficult legal position.

The FDA fears that civil servants will be caught between judges and ministers and that a directive to violate international law may put them in conflict with civil service law.

The government said advice from Darren Tierney, head of the fitness and ethics department, was that the law would not be broken.

In a message published on the government website, “In implementing the decision, civil servants will act in accordance with the Civil Service Code, including a commitment not to frustrate the implementation of policies once decisions have been made,” Mr. Tierney wrote.

“They will act in accordance with the law, which is the law enacted by Parliament and under which the recognized and affirmed discretion of the Minister will be exercised.”

The Rwanda plan is a key part of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's pledge to stop migrants crossing the English Channel in dangerous boats.

It also limits the type of legal challenges they can bring to the courts and, importantly, ministers can choose to ignore an interim order from the European Court of Human Rights to halt flights while the case is still pending.

In practice, this will see ministers order key civil service leaders to prepare and send flights, even if judges say the case is not settled.

The First Division Association (FDA), which represents Whitehall's leaders, said the action meant members feared they could be ordered to violate international law and the Civil Service Code, the legally backed rule book.

Dave Penman, the FDA's secretary-general, said FDA members do not take a political view on whether Rwanda's plan is right or wrong – but they need certainty about whether the action puts them in conflict between ministers and the law.

“this [measure] “It is not a coincidence or due to poor wording,” he said.

“It is a political choice by the government, made not for the good of the country but to avoid angering any of the warring factions within its party.”

“It is also irresponsible. Civil servants know that they have to support the current government and implement policies, regardless of their political beliefs, but they also know that they have a legal obligation to adhere to the Civil Service Code.

“In the face of a government prepared to act in such a cowardly and reckless manner, it is up to the FDA to stand up for our members and the integrity of the civil service.”

But if the case reaches a full hearing – although departure dates have not yet been set – it could temporarily paralyze politics.

In a worst-case scenario, judges could rule that the government created an illegal conflict that prevents senior civil servants from implementing the plan.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Ministry of Interior confirmed that a “series of nationwide operations” were underway to detain people across the country before they are deported to Rwanda.

Photos and videos were published of immigration enforcement officers detaining several migrants in various accommodations, before they were taken away in handcuffs and placed in secure cars.

Every person being considered for forcible removal to Rwanda must be given written notice at least seven days in advance of such intent, and has the right to file a legal challenge.

The government had previously said it was aiming for flights to take off by spring, but now says this should happen within nine to 11 weeks.

The Labor Party said it would cancel the Rwanda plan if it wins the next elections.

However, when asked several times whether the party would release detainees as part of this policy, Labour's deputy national campaign coordinator, Eli Reeves, did not say.

She told BBC Radio 4's World at One programme: “We want to send people back to their countries if their claims fail, which is why we have these repatriation agreements and we are also appointing 1,000 case workers.”

'Great concern'

Home Office documents show that 5,700 asylum seekers have been identified in the initial group to be sent to Rwanda, but “only 2,143 continue to report to the Home Office and their place of detention can be determined.”

The Interior Ministry said it had increased detention capacity to more than 2,200 places and had 500 highly trained female escorts.

The ministry said that commercial charter flights have been booked and the airport has been placed on readiness.

Anwar Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: “The government’s move to detain people is causing fear, distress and extreme anxiety among men, women and children who have fled war and persecution to find safety in the UK.”

He said the government should focus on processing asylum claims “efficiently and fairly”, rather than “headline-grabbing schemes that waste time and resources”.

“Pre-election hoax”

This comes as figures showed that 268 people arrived in the UK across the English Channel in five boats on Tuesday.

Preliminary Home Office figures show a total of 7,567 people made the trip from January to April.

This number is 27% higher than the number of arrivals recorded in the same period last year.

Meanwhile, the first rejected asylum seeker went to Rwanda under a separate voluntary deportation programme.

Under the programme, announced in March, migrants who have had their applications rejected are offered up to £3,000 to move to the East African country.

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper described news of the voluntary return as a “pre-election gimmick”, adding that taxpayers were “paying £3,000 for a volunteer to get on a plane”.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said: “They've had to pay someone £3,000. There's no doubt it's about the election – it's not about seriously stopping the boats.”

Additional reporting by Jennifer McKernan and Becky Morton

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