Tory government slammed for ‘misleading’ claim LGBTQ+ refugees will be safe in Rwanda

Migrants packed tightly onto a small inflatable boat bail water out as they attempt to cross the English Channel.

The Home Office has admitted there is evidence LGBTQ+ refugees could face persecution in Rwanda – but is pushing ahead with plans to send asylum seekers there.

The government has faced resounding criticism from human rights groups over its plans to send asylum seekers who arrive via the English Channel to Rwanda. Advocacy organisations have warned that the plans will put LGBTQ+ asylum seekers at greater risk.

In a document issued on Monday (9 May), the Home Office admitted that there was “some evidence of discrimination and intolerance” towards LGBTQ+ people in Rwanda.

However, it said the “general treatment is not sufficiently serious” for there to be concerns about “persecution or serious harm”.

The government claims that there is no reason to think LGBTQ+ asylum seekers will face any “real risk” in Rwanda.

The document goes on to state that homosexuality is not illegal in Rwanda, however it says advocacy groups report that LGBTQ+ people have been arrested for offences such as “public nuisance” or “deviant behaviour”.

The Home Office says “many” of those examples referenced by advocacy groups were specific to Rwanda’s trans community.

In a separate equality impact assessment, the Home Office insists that sexual orientation will be taken into account when deciding to relocate an asylum seeker.

“We would undertake a case-by-case risk assessment when determining eligibility for relocation and no one will be relocated if it is unsafe or inappropriate,” the equality impact assessment says.

“In relation to Rwanda… there are concerns over the treatment of some LGBTQI+ people but we will continue to consider the impact on this group and take into account further evidence over the course of the partnership.”

LGBTQ+ people face prosecution under ‘decency laws’ in Rwanda

LGBTQ+ people are likely to face discrimination and persecution in Rwanda, according to Daniel Sohege, an expert in international refugee law who also works as director of Stand For All, an asylum advocacy group.

“There might not be laws specifically discriminating, but commonly the LGBTQ+ community is prosecuted under public decency laws with up to three years in jail,” Sohege explains.

“Trans individuals are at particular risk – gender reassignment is illegal. There are no legal rights for same-sex couples, there’s no same-sex marriage. Discrimination is widespread. I really don’t get where the government is coming from with this.”

Priti Patel and Rwandan foreign minister Vincent Biruta signing the agreement

Priti Patel and Rwandan foreign minister Vincent Biruta signing the agreement. (Getty)

Sohege found the Home Office’s admission that the situation may be different for trans people “deeply disturbing”.

“It’s almost normalising transphobia to say: ‘Well we know the risk, however it’s only trans people, so we don’t need to worry about it.’ The whole way that section is written with ‘however’ completely dismisses the specific needs of trans individuals.”

It’s part of a trend that the Home Office seems to dismiss the concerns of the LGBTQ+ community.

Sohege is concerned that the Home Office’s approach is “misleading”.

“I think [the Home Office] is getting very, very close to almost deliberately misleading people. What they have written does not stack up with what we are seeing on the ground of persecution and discrimination.”

Sohege is expecting to see an uptick in discrimination against asylum seekers as a result of the policy. He also anticipates there will be an increase in human trafficking.

“This is going to go badly. We are going to see significant human rights abuses coming up, whether directly through police brutality against the LGBTQ+ community or indirectly as asylum seekers in a country that has a track record of discrimination.”

Sohege adds: “This seems to be almost institutionalised, it’s part of a trend that the Home Office seems to dismiss the concerns of the LGBTQ+ community and individuals. They deny claims which could potentially put them at risk, and in this particular case it’s very, very likely to put them at significant risk.”

UK government preparing to send first group of migrants abroad

The news comes just weeks after the UK government first announced its plans to send asylum seekers who arrive via the English Channel to Rwanda.

There was widespread backlash from human rights groups in April when the Home Office announced the Migration and Economic Development Partnership, a plan that will see migrants the government deems “illegal” sent to Rwanda instead.

The plan was described as “evil” by Sonia Lenegan, policy director at Rainbow Migration, while political rivals and activists queued up to condemn the partnership.

The first group of asylum seekers deemed to have arrived “illegally” by the government will be told they’re being relocated to Rwanda this week, the Home Office announced on Tuesday (10 May).

In a statement, Home Secretary Priti Patel said the partnership with Rwanda was “world-leading”.

“This is just the first stage of the process and we know it will take time as some will seek to frustrate the process and delay removals,” Patel said.

“I will not be deterred from acting to deliver on the changes the British people voted for to take back control of our money, laws and borders.”

PinkNews has contacted the Home Office for comment.