The UK government’s controversial plans to shake up the way asylum seekers are treated and deport some refugees to Rwanda are running up against a barrage of legal challenges.

The Public and Commercial Services Union, which represents civil servants, has joined forces with advocacy groups Detention Action and Care4Calais, to demand greater clarity from the Home Office on the criteria by which refugees will be selected for deportation.

Last month, the Home Office announced its plan to transport some migrants entering the UK — including those who have not sought asylum in a safe third country — to Rwanda.

Paul O’Connor, head of bargaining at the PCS, said the union had given the Home Office until this week to provide more details on the Rwanda scheme, so it can be scrutinised for compliance with domestic law and with the Geneva Convention on refugees.

Rwanda initially stands to gain £120mn from the deal with Britain under which the densely populated African country will process and house an unknown number of migrants sent from Britain.

O’Connor said many civil servants in the Home Office are strongly opposed to the migration policy and that the PCS intended to post the matter for judicial review.

“We don’t want our members put in this invidious situation, subject to the trauma of doing unpalatable things. We think what’s proposed is inhumane and breaches international conventions,” he added.

The policy faces a separate legal challenge from digital rights campaigners the Open Rights Group and Foxglove, which question how the Home Office will share personal data of deportees with the Rwanda government, which has its own chequered human rights record.

Graeme McGregor, campaigns manager for Detention Action, said while the Home Office had initially indicated that only men would be sent to Rwanda, both the memorandum of understanding with Kigali and the Nationality and Borders Bill were vague.

“There is no reason why the criteria should not be made public in order that its legality can be tested,” he added.

Last week in Southampton, prime minister Boris Johnson told reporters that implementation of the Rwanda policy could be delayed by legal challenges but that the government was determined to “get it done”.

“Of course, there are going to be legal eagles, liberal lawyers, who will try to make this difficult to settle. We always knew this was going to happen, but it is a very, very sensible thing.”

Other aspects of the government’s migration policy are facing concerted opposition. After a protracted legal battle with the PCS, among other groups, the government was forced to scrap plans last month to use the Border Force to turn back migrants in the English Channel.

The district council in Hambleton, North Yorkshire, is also challenging Home Office plans to use an old RAF base at Linton-on-Ouse as a reception centre to process upwards of 1,500 asylum seekers at a time.

Justin Ives, chief executive of the council, said it was consulting lawyers with a view to taking legal action against the plan, which he said had been landed on the area without prior consultation. Linton-on-Ouse has a population of 700 and just one small village shop.

The Home Office said the agreement with Rwanda fully complied with international and national law, but declined to offer more details.

“This world-leading migration and economic development partnership [with Rwanda] will overhaul our broken asylum system, which is currently costing the UK taxpayer £1.5bn a year — the highest amount in two decades,” an official said, adding: “It means those arriving dangerously, illegally or unnecessarily can be relocated to have their asylum claims considered and, if recognised as refugees, build their lives there.” 

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