The United Kingdom published its safety assessment on Rwanda, intended to justify a recently announced agreement to send asylum seekers crossing the English Channel or other so called “irregular” or dangerous routes to the Central African country.
Britain was one of the first countries to ratify the Refugee Convention of 1951, which spelled out countries’ obligations to protect fugitives from persecution who had arrived in their territories and not return them to danger. The convention was “an excellent instrument”, said Selwyn Lloyd, a Conservative minister in the Foreign Office. No country in Europe was doing as much to help refugees, boasted another minister. (ECONOMIST ARTICLE.)
The Conservative UK government is perturbed by the growing number of people (some 29,000 last year) who reach Britain in small boats crossing the Channel from France. On April 14th it signed a memorandum of understanding with Rwanda which would allow it to fly asylum-seekers who reach Britain’s shores straight to the African country without listening to their claims. Rwanda, which gets cash as part of the deal, will consider whether to grant them asylum—in Rwanda. They will not be allowed back to Britain.
The UK justification report was expected to downplay human rights violations in Rwanda. HRW: "After all, the government couldn’t ship off vulnerable people seeking protection with a one-way ticket to a partner they regard as abusive. But it goes even further, cherry-picking facts, or ignoring them completely, to bolster a foregone conclusion."
HRW, goes on to note:
"In assessing Rwanda’s rights record, the report states that, “notwithstanding some restrictions on freedom of speech and/or freedom of association,” there are “not substantial grounds” for believing refugees would be mistreated. This conclusion is hard to square with Rwanda’s past treatment of refugees.
Between February and May 2018, Rwandan authorities used excessive force and killed 12 Congolese refugees during a protest over cuts in food rations, and police arrested over 60 others. They charged them with participating in illegal demonstrations, violence against public authorities, rebellion, and disobeying law enforcement. Some were also charged with “spreading false information with intent to create a hostile international opinion against the Rwandan state.” Human Rights Watch confirmed that between October 2018 and September 2019, at least 35 refugees were sentenced to between 3 months and 15 years in prison. One refugee was accused of sharing information with us, and the communications were used as evidence against him during trial. He is currently serving a 15-year sentence.
The UK Home Office does acknowledge some concerns over “evidence of discrimination and intolerance towards persons based on their sexual orientation and gender identity or expression,” but maintains these abuses aren’t that serious."
African Human rights Coalition and Human Rights Watch have documented how LGBTI people have been detained, beaten, insulted and harassed for their sexual orientation and gender identity. HRW notes: "Based on our conversations with members of the LGBTI community in Rwanda, it’s difficult to gauge what the UK government would consider “serious” enough." Melanie Nathan, ED for African Human Rights Coalition has appeared as an expert witness, testifying on behalf of LGBTQI+ asylum seekers in the U.S. from Rwanda. "I have heard the many stories of abuse, persecution and violence suffered by LGBTQI+ Rwandans, first hand. The fact is that LGBTQI+ people in Rwanda suffer grave danger."
HRW: "The UK government can continue to try to sugarcoat its policy decisions with selective assessments like this one, but it won’t change the truth: in choosing to rip up international obligations to asylum seekers and expel them to a country with a track record for human rights abuse, the government continues to embrace a policy of cruelty."
Melanie Nathan, African Human Rights Coalition Statement on Offshoring Asylum:
"This decision by the UK is cruel and downright nasty! To off-shore asylum is absurd and is the relinquishment of the UK's duty under the Convention it signed and once championed. The human toll for 'offshoring' asylum will be mammoth and flies in the face of the Convention and the asylum seekers rights, not to mention basic humanity. Evidence from where offshoring has been implemented elsewhere indicates it leads to profound human suffering. To send an LGBTQI+ person to Rwanda is pure insanity. This is absolutely no solution for LGBTQI+ refugees who suffer added jeopardy. The government authorities and general populace of Rwanda consider LGBTQI+ people an abomination and unworthy of equal treatment. Rwanda's LGBTQI+ people seek asylum on foreign shores due to the discrimination, persecution, violence they experience in their own country. How is it going to be for an LGBTQI+ foreigner forced to Rwanda, to have to seek asylum in a hostile host country? The decriminalization of homosexuality does not help LGBTQI+ people living in Rwanda escape being ostracized and demonized, and the resulting violence. There will be no life in Rwanda for LGBTQI+ people with the current heightened anti-LGBTQI+ sentiment. The British government cannot do this and not be seen specifically to be anti-LGBTQI+ in their asylum policy. They must do a course change. Especially for those claiming asylum with an LGBTQI+ profile. I welcome anyone to contact me about my country conditions reports for LGBTQI+ people on Rwanda for detailed information. This is well documented."