Three Sudanese victims of torture and trafficking who were threatened with being deported to Rwanda on a controversial charter flight last week have had their pleas to be released from detention rejected by a high court judge.
The three asylum seekers, who all arrived in the UK on small boats last month, were issued with notices of intent that the home secretary was considering deporting them to Rwanda.
All three were subsequently identified as possible victims of trafficking and asked to be urgently released from detention as it is likely to be months before their trafficking cases are concluded. They say that being locked up is exacerbating their trauma.
But on Monday the judge, Mr Justice Swift, refused to grant the application for interim relief, which would have allowed them to be freed from detention – although he did not rule out granting it at a later date if both the Home Office and the claimants’ cases were better prepared.
He said that although there was a public interest in maintaining immigration control, he was concerned about the availability of suitable accommodation to release the three asylum seekers into if he did rule that they should be released. The Home Office had not confirmed what safe and secure accommodation might be available.
Swift said that the case before him had been presented to him “in a relatively inchoate form”.
The high court was also told that the UK will “imminently” ask the European court of human rights to reconsider a measure that blocked some asylum seekers from being removed on the first planned Rwanda deportation flight.
The court heard that the Home Office would be challenging the European court’s interim measure, known as a rule 39 indication. The first deportation flight to Rwanda was supposed to take place last week, but was blocked at the last minute after a late intervention by the ECHR. A full judicial review of the policy is expected to take place in July.
A Home Office minister on Monday also refused to rule out trying to send another deportation flight to Rwanda before the outcome of the review.
Tom Pursglove was asked by the SNP’s home affairs spokesman, Stuart McDonald, to confirm that Priti Patel will not be “gambling on another utterly reckless, degrading and expensive attempt at these removals” before the judicial review is heard, but he declined to comment on “what are ongoing legal proceedings”.
The three Sudanese asylum seekers have received “reasonable grounds” decisions that they are suspected victims of trafficking. They cannot be deporteduntil their trafficking cases have been concluded, and according to the Home Office’s own data from the first quarter of 2022, it is taking on average 448 days to adjudicate on trafficking cases.
Jack Anderson, representing the home secretary, said Priti Patel opposed the men’s applications for release due to what she believed was a risk of absconding, although none have a history and have only recently arrived in the UK. He said that even if the asylum seekers were tagged, GPS tagging is not “foolproof”.
The Home Office has just launched a 12-month pilot scheme to issue some asylum seekers who arrive by irregular means with GPS tags, citing the risk that these asylum seekers might abscond as the reason for operating the new scheme.
Chris Buttler QC, acting for the three asylum seekers, requested they be released into Salvation Army accommodation, where their safety can be assured. He said that all three have “exceptionally strong” asylum and trafficking claims.
“Each claimant has suffered a very great deal,” said Buttler. “They fled their villages after they were razed to the ground and family members were raped and tortured. The route from Sudan to Europe takes you through Libya, where there is a particular risk of migrants being forced into slavery.
“All three suffered grotesquely inhumane treatment. They were sold into slavery and treated like animals. All bear physical and mental scars.”
Anderson told the court: “They are individuals who have been through safe countries other than the UK. They have chosen to enter by means that are irregular and very dangerous.”
Buttler said: “They are non-Arab Darfuris, they are victims of trafficking.”