The UK’s anti-slavery commissioner has slammed the “lack of humanity” of the government’s plans to ship asylum seekers to Rwanda, warning trafficking victims sent there are likely to be deprived of support.
Responding to the controversial deal for the first time, Dame Sara Thornton told The Independent she had “significant concerns”, citing evidence the African country has detained thousands of potential trafficking victims without providing them with proper care in the past year.
The multi-million-pound deal between the UK and Rwanda, announced last Thursday, will see asylum seekers in the UK flown 4,000 miles away to have their asylum claims processed by Rwandan authorities.
The Home Office has said asylum seekers arriving in the UK will go through a screening process before it is decided that they can be flown to Rwanda, and that nobody will be removed if it is “unsafe or inappropriate” for them.
But the document outlining the terms of the migration deal states modern slavery victims could be among those removed from Britain under the arrangement, and Rwanda will be provided with information about relocated individuals “relating to any special needs that may arise as a result of their being to victim”.
Dame Sara, whose job it is to monitor the UK’s efforts to prevent, detect and investigate modern slavery offences, said: “Like many I have significant concerns about the legality and lack of humanity of the proposal to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.”
She cited the US government latest Trafficking in Person Report for 2021, which accuses the Rwandans of detaining thousands of potential victims in district transit centers “without conducting adequate screening or referring identified victims to proper care and assistance”.
The report adds the Rwandan government “did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas”. It states it investigated fewer trafficking cases and prosecuted and contained fewer traffickers compared to the previous year, and that it “lacked a victim-witness support program”.
“It appears highly probable that victims will neither be identified nor receive adequate support,” Dame Sara added.
The UK has also condemned Rwanda for its failure to adequately protect modern survivors. Last July, the UK’s international ambassador for human rights, Rita French, condemned the country for failing to “screen, identify and provide support to trafficking victims” in the country.
Kolbassia Haoussou MBE, of the charity Freedom from Torture, said: “It is utterly unconscionable that survivors of human trafficking and modern slavery – the very people that this cruel policy is ostensibly designed to protect – will be deported to a country which less than a year ago this government condemned for failing to support.”
It comes as hundreds of local councilors in the UK have come together to reject the Rwanda deal, accusing ministers of “dividing and discriminating”, and warning the plans will “entrench racism”.
In a statement seen by The Independent, the councillors said: “We are appalled by the proposal to send asylum seekers to Rwanda […] We urge the government to choose differently. We ask the government to trust our communities and work with us, not foster racism and division via contracts with foreign governments or private companies,”
“These unspeakably cruel plans play fast and loose with international law, entrench racism and put people’s lives in danger. They have been tried elsewhere and scrapped because they are inhumane and ineffective as well as very expensive.”
The Home Office has been approached for comment.