Boris Johnson has described Rwanda as one of the safest countries in the world and warned critics of the “risk of stereotyping” after concerns were raised about its human rights record.
Under new plans, some of those who attempt to enter the UK by routes deemed “illegal” by the Government will be sent more than 4,000 miles to Rwanda while their claims are assessed.
Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights director, warned that sending people seeking asylum in the UK to another country “let alone one with such a dismal human rights record” is “the very height of irresponsibility”.
But speaking at an airport in Kent, the Prime Minister said: “I just want to say something about Rwanda because I think there’s a risk of stereotyping here.
“Rwanda has totally transformed over the last few decades, it’s a very, very different country from what it was.
“This is not something that we’ve put together overnight, this has been nine months in preparation. So I would urge people not to think in a blinkered way about Rwanda.”
He added: “Let’s be clear, Rwanda is one of the safest countries in the world, globally recognized for its record of welcoming and integrating migrants.”
Rwanda is a landlocked country in east-central Africa, with a population of around 13 million. It joined the Commonwealth in 2009.
In terms of size, it is roughly between Wales and Belgium and its climate is tropical. It borders Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Its first language is Kinyarwanda but English is an official language.
Mr Valdez-Symonds said the African nation has a “dismal human rights record”.
He described the plan as “shockingly ill-conceived”, adding: “Sending people to another country – let alone one with such a dismal human rights record – for asylum ‘processing’ is the very height of irresponsibility and shows how far removed from humanity and reality the Government now is on asylum issues.”
Human Rights Watch, an international NGO, says on its website that “arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, and torture in official and unofficial detention facilities is commonplace” in Rwanda.
It says: “The ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) continues to target those perceived as a threat to the government.
“Several high-profile critics have been arrested or threatened and authorities regularly fail to conduct credible investigations into cases of enforced disappearances and suspicious deaths of government opponents.
“Arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, and torture in official and unofficial detention facilities is commonplace, and fair trial standards are routinely flooded in many sensitive political cases, in which security-related charges are often used to prosecute prominent government critics.
“Arbitrary detention and mistreatment of street children, sex workers and petty vendors occurs widely.”
Earlier, Wales Secretary Simon Hart said the plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda has the potential to be a “really humane step forward”.
Speaking to Sky News, Mr Hart said: “I think the first thing is we have to deal with this problem. We have a very good relationship with Rwanda: it’s an up-and-coming economy, it has got a very good record with migrants in this particular issue.
“And it’s an arrangement which I think suits both countries very well and provides the best opportunities for economic migrants, for those who have been in the forefront of this particular appalling problem for so long now.
“And I think that this arrangement is a really… it has the potential to be a really good step forward and a really humane step forward.”