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Rwanda Deportations Begin: The UK Punishes Victims and Innocents

To “stop the boats”, the UK government has for the last two years announced its plan to deport to Rwanda people seeking asylum who arrived in the UK by small boat or transit lorry. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak contends that the threat of deportation to Rwanda would deter refugees in Calais from making the perilous journey across the English Channel. At the same time, Sunak also wants to make clear that Rwanda is a very safe country for refugees to reside. 

In other words, the deportation of asylum seekers to Rwanda is, according to the UK government, both safe and also a fate worse than the possibility of drowning in the English Channel. 

Circumventing the Supreme Court’s ruling in 2022 that the scheme was unlawful (due to Rwanda not being a safe place to which people seeking asylum could be removed), the UK government introduced the Safety of Rwanda Act, which declares that Rwanda should be considered a safe country for asylum seekers to live. The bill received Royal Assent on 25th April, less than a week before the US accused Rwanda of involvement in a deadly attack on the Goma refugee camp in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo which killed at least twelve people including children.

Under the Rwanda Scheme, the UK government intends to deport to a refugee holding facility in Rwanda any person over the age of 18 claiming asylum in the UK who arrived in the UK via a small boat or a transit lorry after 1st January 2022. It is also currently offering up to £3,000 to people whose migration or asylum applications have failed and the government is negotiating the expansion of the scheme to include any person whose asylum claim has been refused or withdrawn.

People with dependents under the age of 18 are exempt from the scheme, as are people who have been displaced from Rwanda. There is also an opportunity for people who have received notice of their impending removal to Rwanda to dispute their deportation because their mental or physical health would deteriorate rapidly and irreversibly were they to be removed to Rwanda – although this claim must be made within days of receiving their notice, and the required evidence is extremely specific and potentially impossible to get hold of in time to appeal. 

Amongst those who could be removed to Rwanda are people from countries neighbouring and at war with Rwanda – as brought to light on BBC Question Time where policing minister, Chris Philip proved that geography was not his strongest subject. In addition, children who have been labelled as adults by the Home Office could face deportation. In an act of gross negligence by the home office, at least 867 children have been placed in adult asylum accommodation, to deleterious effect. Finally, there are also no concessions for people who have survived modern slavery. This could cause victims of human trafficking and modern slavery to stay silent about their exploitation for fear of deportation, therefore remaining trapped in their situation; others who escape exploitation may try to go underground to avoid attention from authorities, putting them at severe risk of homelessness and re-exploitation; those whom the Home Office selects to be deported may face re-traumatisation by being moved to somewhere new and unfamiliar, many miles away. 

As described by a person who has survived modern slavery: Trafficking involves moving. This is another move and, to me, echoes the actions of traffickers – to be moved somewhere new, somewhere uncertain and miles away – the fear of something happening there and it’s like there is nothing human – dehumanising and being exported like goods. If only this much effort was used to disrupt traffickers.” 

The first flight to Rwanda could begin as soon as 24 June. Once in Rwanda, asylum seekers will remain in Rwanda unless the UK government permits them to move back to the UK (which one would presume is never).

So far, the government has spent almost half a billion pounds has been spent on the Rwanda scheme. This includes the £100 million squandered last year on removal flights that were grounded due to the Court of Appeal ruling that the deportations would breach international law. Meanwhile in Rwanda, only one asylum accommodation for UK asylum seekers exists: the Hope Hostel which has a capacity of two hundred people. Nonetheless, the Home Office has already started carrying out the arrests of around 5,700 men and women who arrived in the UK to seek asylum between January 2022 and June 2023. 

In a frankly repulsive tweet from the Home Office, a video of a person being arrested at their home and forced into a police custody van is captioned: “The first people set to be removed to Rwanda have been detained.” Why would you gloat about forcibly arresting innocent people who have been let down multiple times by the international community?

Over 3,500 people the Home Office plans to arrest are unaccounted for, having – very understandably - avoided their mandatory Home Office appointments or potentially fled across the Northern Irish border into Ireland to avoid arrest and deportation to Rwanda. Those who have followed Home Office rules have been detained during their appointments, as was the case with a man who spoke anonymously to the Guardian

First he fled ongoing conflict in his home town in Sudan, Sudan is currently the site of famine, genocide and the largest displacement crisis in the world. Leaving behind his home, his friends, and his family, he was captured by Libyan authorities and detained in a Libyan refugee camp where he was abused. Eventually, he managed to raise enough money to pay his captors to free him and he then made the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean Sea to Italy– a journey on which he nearly drowned. 

He explained that he was happy to claim asylum there, but the Italian authorities refused to fingerprint him, and instead told him to go to France. International law states that a person should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach, but if in the first country they reach, they do not have their biometrics taken, they haven’t officially “arrived” in that country. 

Once in France, he tried to make an asylum claim but was told it would take over four years for his asylum claim to be processed. So he did what I am sure we would all do in his situation and joined the 2,000+ refugees in Calais and waited for the opportunity to make the perilous journey across the English Channel to the UK – a journey on which he nearly drowned. He arrived in the UK in June 2022 and after claiming asylum in the UK, he remarked how welcome he had been made to feel by his community. 

When news of the Rwanda Scheme came to his attention, his friends advised him to go underground. Instead, he chose to follow the rules. When he turned up for his mandatory Home Office appointment in Newcastle, he was detained and told he would be deported to a “safe third country”, Rwanda. He told the Guardian “I escaped from an African country because it was not safe and I am very scared to be deported to another African country because I know it will not be safe for me.” 

For this man, the UK was the third country he reached and it was a country in which he felt safe and welcome. That’s in large part because the UK population has one of the most positive attitudes towards supporting refugees in Europe. Yet because of the decisions made by a disillusioned and despotic UK government, he lives in fear of his impending deportation to Rwanda. All he is asking for is safety until he can return home.  


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