Tory plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda will put LGBT+ refugees in grave danger, expert says

Priti Patel

The Tory government wants to send some asylum seekers arriving in the UK on small boats from the Channel to Rwanda, a plan described as “evil” and “unworkable”.

Home secretary Priti Patel has landed in Rwanda to sign the agreement, officially announced by Boris Johnson on Thursday (14 April).

“The home secretary will set out further details on a world-first migration and economic development partnership signed by the home secretary, Priti Patel, with Rwanda – one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa which is recognised globally for its record on welcoming and integrating migrants,” his office said earlier.

While precise details of the pact are still emerging, Thursday reports suggest that those who arrive in Britain via the Channel and other routes considered “illegal” by the government will be flown to Rwanda for processing. It’s unclear if the government has obtained guarantees of migrant welfare, or whether the camp will be under British jurisdiction.

The Times reported that the proposals will only apply to male asylum seekers, who will reportedly be encouraged to settle down in Rwanda.

Speaking at an airport in Kent, Johnson said that anyone caught entering Britain illegally from 1 January may be relocated to Rwanda.

“We must ensure that the only route to asylum in the UK is a safe and legal one and that those who tried to jump the queue or abuse our systems will find no automatic path to set them up in our country, but rather be swiftly and humanely removed to a safe third country or their country of origin,” he said.

Johnson said the government planned to end the “barbaric trade in human misery” caused by human traffickers in the English Channel – something that queer refugees previously warned PinkNews will happen even more if migration rules are narrowed for them.

He said the offshoring plan will not be implemented overnight, while the Rwandan government said Britain will pay Rwanda millions to bankroll “opportunities” for migrants, including education, language lessons and skills training.

Britain “cannot sustain a parallel illegal system. Our compassion may be infinite, but our capacity to help people is not.”

Opposition parties and rights groups warned that Britain embracing an “offshoring” approach to asylum-seeking is “unworkable and unethical”.

Among its harshest critics was Rainbow Migration, which provides support for LGBT+ asylum seekers.

Policy director Sonia Lenegan told PinkNews that the “evil” plans will further harm queer people seeking sanctuary from countries that see their existence as illegal.

“Rwanda is not a great place for LGBT+ people,” she said.

Home Office officials already use “degrading” methods and outdated stereotypes when deciding whether an LGBT+ person is who they say they are, Lenegan said.

“There is no way that the British government can confirm they will not be sending queer people to Rwanda because we know that people are routinely disbelieved and the Home Office will dispute people’s sexual orientation in a lot of cases,” she added.

“There’s no way the government can ensure that they are not going to be sending LGBT+ people there.

“How are you going to filter people out when you’re not even believing them now? There are no safeguards that will be enough. It’s not safe for queer people, it’s not safe for anyone.”

A similar agreement between Rwanda and Israel saw some 4,000 people deported to Rwanda and Uganda between 2014 and 2017, only for almost all to flee immediately to Europe, Lenegan said.

She added: “When Australia offshored people to Manus Island, where it’s criminalised to be gay, [aslyum seekers] were being told at induction not to be open.” She expects the same to happen for queer people sent to Rwanda.

Yvette Cooper, Labour’s shadow home secretary, said the deal is an “attempt to distract” from the government’s “law-breaking”, referring to Johnson accepting a fine for breaking lockdown rules.

SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “This is not the mark of a civilised society. It’s evil.”

Rwanda is one of a handful of African nations where, technically, queer sex isn’t illegal – however, homophobia is deeply entrenched and “presumed” LGBT+ people are often arrested under public morality laws.

Citizens have a general right to freedom from discrimination, but the Foreign Office acknowledges that “there are no specific anti-discrimination laws that protect LGBT individuals” in Rwanda. Same-sex marriage and adoption, as well as gender recognition for trans people remain off the books.

Nine in 10 citizens feel the country is not a “good place for homosexuals”, according to a 2013 Gallup poll. LGBT+ Rwandans have said they are routinely fired, evicted and severed off from their loved ones if they come out.

Johnson announced the policy in Kent, where thousands of asylum seekers have sought refuge after making perilous crossings of the English Channel.

“I accept that these people – whether 600 or one thousand – are in search of a better life; the opportunities that the United Kingdom provides and the hope of a fresh start,” he said.

The Nationality and Borders bill, brought forth by Patel, includes proposals to criminalise entering Britain illegally, such as by boat. The House of Lords has voted down many of its hardline measures as it is batted back and forth between the houses.

While relocating migrants to Rwanda specifically was not part of the legislation, ministers proposed in July to transfer asylum seekers to an offshore processing centre. The Times claimed that migrants could be sent to Ghana and Rwanda.

The bill is set to return to the House of Commons next Wednesday (20 April) for MPs to consider new amendments voted by the Lords.

Queer people seeking asylum in Britain already face disproportionately high hurdles, but the Nationality and Borders bill will only make things worse, refugees previously told PinkNews.

The Home Office currently rejects four out of five claims made on the basis of sexuality or gender identity – a figure that has soared over the last few years.

Migrants were helped ashore from an RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) lifeboat. (BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images)

The Refugee Council, a British group that supports refugees and asylum seekers, urged the government to choose “compassion”.

“The government is choosing control and punishment above compassion despite the fact its own data shows that two-thirds of men, women and children arriving in small boats come from countries where war and persecution has forced them from their homes,” chief executive Enver Solomon told The Guardian.

Denmark’s Parliament passed a law in September allowing the nation to relocate asylum seekers outside of the European Union – a move condemned by the African Union as “responsibility and burden-shifting“.

Now it seems Britain hopes to do the same.

PinkNews contacted the Home Office for comment.

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