A director and founding member of a refugee charity in Colchester has lambasted the government’s scheme to send asylum seekers to Rwanda while their claims are processed.

Maria Wilby, who was a volunteer at Refugee Action for seven years before becoming its director, hit out at plans by the Home Office to stem illegal migration.

Under new government plans signed off by Home Secretary Priti Patel, Channel migrants who arrive in Britain but are deemed unsuitable to seek asylum will be served with a notice saying they will be relocated to Rwanda within five days.

Backed by £120m of government funds, migrants can be relocated to the Rwandan capital Kigali, where they will stay for up to three months while their asylum and resettlement applications are considered.

But Mrs Wilby argued relocating migrants 4,000 miles away – which is estimated to cost between £20,000 and £30,000 per person – is not a safe or viable solution.

She said: “Rwanda is not what we would call a country where people would be safe – I have no hesitation in saying our clients would not be safe there.

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“People have been raped, tortured, kept hostage, and kept in dreadful, dreadful conditions where they’ve lived on a piece of cloth on the ground.

“It’s very hard to take [the policy] seriously.”

Mrs Wilby added migrants seeking asylum in the UK are doing what anybody would do were they in a similar situation.

“They are doing what any of us would do in desperate circumstances,” Mrs Wilby said.

“It would only take one nuclear power plant to explode in the UK to force us to escape to Ireland or France – if they wouldn’t have us then we’d go to the next country, and the next country.”

Ms Patel had challenged opponents of the scheme to come up with a better idea to tackle “illegal” migrant crossings.

Writing a joint article in The Times with Rwandan foreign minister Vincent Biruta, the Home Secretary insisted her controversial plans were “bold and innovative”.

She added: “It’s surprising that those institutions that criticise the plans fail to offer their own solutions.”