Syrian asylum seeker in UK says he ‘lost everything’ after Rwanda roundup

<span>Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda policy has been described by critics as a ‘stunt’.</span><span>Photograph: Leon Neal/PA</span>
Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda policy has been described by critics as a ‘stunt’.Photograph: Leon Neal/PA

A Syrian asylum seeker who was one of 220 people arrested and detained in preparation for forced removal to Rwanda says he has lost everything after his release.

Critics described the high-profile mass roundups before the local elections in May as a “stunt” that needlessly disrupted the lives of many.

The prime minister, Keir Starmer, announced last week the policy was “dead and buried”.

However, in a high court case this week, the home secretary, Yvette Cooper, said she would set out her position about the Rwanda legislation and guidance on 1 October.

Mohammed*, 27, arrived in the UK from Syria in July 2022 and was detained in May this year under the Rwanda policy, before being released in June.

“I was arrested and locked up as part of the last government’s attempt to win votes. I had committed no crime. When I was released from detention I had lost my accommodation and all my belongings. I lost everything,” he said.

Those arrested in raids by immigration enforcement teams were seized in haste. Although some were able to return to their previous accommodation after being released from detention, others were moved to areas far from their support networks.

“I was living in a shared house in Hull with other asylum seekers who were very nice,” Mohammed said. “We all ate halal food and there was no drinking or smoking in the house. We kept the place very clean. Now I’ve lost everything. The Home Office moved a new person into my room.

“A charity organised for me to stay with an English woman in a village, which is two bus rides away. She is very nice but I miss my friends and my support network in Hull.”

A second man who was attending college in Newcastle and was due to take exams was moved to Sheffield so has to restart his studies from scratch.

On Monday the Rwandan government issued its first statement acknowledging the prime minister’s intention to scrap the scheme.

It said Rwanda “takes note” of the intention of the UK government to terminate the partnership, adding that the “crisis of irregular migration” was an issue for the UK not Rwanda.

It is not known if Rwanda will repay the £270m handed over by the UK as part of the deal. Under the terms of the agreement the country has no obligation to refund this money.

So far this year, more than 13,000 people have crossed the Channel in small boats, which is a record. There were no crossings in the first few days of the new government owing to poor weather conditions but on Monday 65 people crossed in one boat. On Tuesday 419 people crossed in six boats.

James Wilson, the director of Detention Action, a charity that supported dozens of those detained, said: “After being detained unlawfully and then released and relocated, many asylum seekers have now lost any stability they had managed to find. It is vital that the government now processes their claims and finally allows them to get on with rebuilding their lives.”

Shirley Hart, of the charity Welcome House in Hull, said: “Rounding hundreds of people up for Rwanda and detaining them was just a stunt by the last government. As a result of being detained all of the asylum seekers have lost the trust we had spent so long building up. One of the asylum seekers we support, who was detained for Rwanda, is absolutely broken by his experience.”

Mohammed said: “I am very angry about being detained. I feel I was subjected to a great injustice. I lived in a war in my country from the age of 13. I can live without my house and my clothes but I cannot live without dignity and a sense of security, which the last government took away from us.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “All individuals previously detained pending removal to Rwanda have now been bailed.”

* Not his real name.

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