The UK government is facing yet more controversy after announcing plans to relocate migrants and asylum seekers to Rwanda.
The deal, announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson today, will be signed by Home Secretary Priti Patel today.
Current indications show that people seeking asylum, often attempting to cross the channel in small dinghys, in the UK would be flown to Rwanda to be processed there, where they will be encouraged to settle. This policy will only apply to males.
Concerns have been raised about how appropriate a choice Rwanda is due to its poor record on human rights.
Numerous charities and NGOs have condemned the country and its president, Paul Kagame, raising questions about torture and mysterious disappearances.
Downing Street said Rwanda is “Globally recognized for its record on welcoming and integrating migrants”, though this has also been questioned.
One Tory MP has also accused the government of attempting to distract the public from the partygate scandal, in which the PM and Chancellor Rishi Sunak were found to have broken the law.
Does Rwanda have a good human rights record?
SIMON WOHLFAHRT/AFP via Getty Images)
According to well-respected NGOs and charities like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW), Rwanda has an extremely concerning record of human rights abuses, including concerns about torture and abortion rights.
Amnesty International’s world report for 2021/22 highlighted concerns about the violation of basic human rights such as freedom of expression, where a free press does not exist and journalists are controlled or targeted.
Press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF), said that “authoritarianism and censorship are likely to continue for the foreseeable future”, due to the oppressive rule of President Paul Kagame.
Elsewhere, the country “backtracked on its previous commitments and rejected recommendations” on enforced disappearances.
Amnesty said: “Suspected enforced disappearances were reported and disappearances from previous years remained unresolved.”
The right to a fair trial, meanwhile, is a cornerstone of human rights, but HRW says this is also a concern with “torture in official and unofficial detention facilities” seemingly “commonplace”.
They continued: “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.”
The desperate nature of migrants fleeing war-torn countries makes them open to abuse and they can be preyed upon by criminal gangs, leading to the trafficking of certain groups of people who are particularly vulnerable, such as young women.
In Rwanda “significant” prison terms can be given to women who have had an abortion. Abortions are illegal except in cases of rape, incest, forced marriage, or where a pregnancy is a health risk.
In May 2020, 50 women were released from jail after a presidential pardon. Six of them were serving life sentences.
What is offshoring?
The process, known as ‘offshoring’ involves sending asylum seekers to be processed abroad, instead of in the UK.
It’s true that the Force Migration review said in 2018 that the “Rwandan government has adopted a relatively progressive policy approach to support the integration of refugees”.
However, the same report also said of the migrants working there who were mainly from DR Congo: “Although Congolese refugees officially have the right to work, in reality, their experiences in the local labor market differ considerably from that of local Rwandans.”
Detention centers have the potential to be unhygienic and depressing and people may be forced to return to Europe, leaving them prone to smuggling and trafficking once again. We do not yet know of the UK’s full plans for any detention centers there.
A similar scheme was reported, though never confirmed, in a deal between Israel and Rwanda in 2017. Around 4,000 refugees, from mostly Eritrea and Sudan, were deported to Rwanda. Few are believed to have stayed and the scheme was said to have been dropped.
It’s been used in countries like Australia, which sent people to detention centers on Nauru and Manus Island. This is believed to have cost the country Down Under at least £6 billion in the eight years up to 2021.
In response to this, Patel said: “Australia is not comparable.”
“It is fair to say our teams have been working through facilities here, you’ve heard me mention the technical experience that we’re bringing.
“We believe in investing in Rwanda, we’re very open about that. We believe that’s the right thing to do.”
Sky reports that the accommodation built so far is “stripped back and basic, but comfortable enough”, but argued that plenty more will need to be built.
Can the government send migrants to Rwanda?
AFP via Getty Images)
The government is likely to be condemned for the policy to offshore asylum seekers to Rwanda. Labor called it “unworkable and unethical.”
The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said they do not support offshoring, and said: “UNHCR does not support the externalization of asylum states’ obligations. This includes measures taken by states to transfer asylum seekers and refugees to other countries, with insufficient safeguards to protect their rights, or where this leads to the shifting rather than the sharing of responsibilities to protect refugees.”
The government cited Brexit and boats attempting to cross the channel with desperate migrants and asylum seekers attempting to make Britain their new home, as the reasons behind the policy.
The PM said: “Our compassion may be infinite, but our capacity to help people is not. The British people voted several times to control our borders. Not to close them, but to control them.”
In July 2021, the UK’s International Ambassador for Human Rights, Rita French condemned Rwanda for its lack of transparency on human rights abuse allegations.
French said: “We regret that Rwanda did not support our recommendation, which was also made by other States, to conduct transparent, credible and independent investigations into allegations of human rights violations including deaths in custody and torture.”
The Home Office has been approached for comment.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.