Tory leadership hopefuls urged to denounce ‘dangerous’ Rwanda asylum plan: ‘LGBTQ+ people could die’

Penny Mordaunt and Rishi Sunak

Human rights campaigners are urging whoever wins the Tory leadership race to scrap the government’s deadly plan to deport refugees to Rwanda.

Sebastian Rocca, CEO of Micro Rainbow, told PinkNews that the next prime minister has a chance to “really differentiate themselves” from Boris Johnson, who “created or supported a policy that is against LGBTQI rights”.

The Home Office has come under fire for its asylum plan, which will see refugees deemed “illegal” by the government sent to be processed in Rwanda instead.

Asylum advocacy organisations are now pleading with Tory leadership candidates to urgently rethink the policy, warning that it could result in the deaths of LGBTQ+ refugees.

Rwanda is an “extremely hostile environment” for LGBTQ+ people, meaning it poses an “immediate danger” to the safety of asylum seekers, Rocca says.

Rocca fears LGBTQ+ people deported to Rwanda could end up sharing bedrooms or facilities with other asylum seekers who have come from countries where being gay, bisexual, lesbian or trans is deeply frowned on, meaning they could face violence.

“We see here in the UK that when that happens, LGBTQI people are subject to violence, abuse and even rape. Let’s imagine a trans woman in a processing centre in Rwanda. She’s going to be harassed and abused, if not worse.”

A woman holds a placard saying 'Fleeing danger should not be illegal' as people protest against the UK deportation flights to Rwanda outside the Home Office on June 13, 2022.

A woman holds a placard saying ‘Fleeing danger should not be illegal’ as people protest against the UK deportation flights to Rwanda outside the Home Office on June 13, 2022. (Leon Neal/Getty)

Rocca also points out that LGBTQ+ asylum seekers may be reluctant to disclose details of their sexual or gender identity to officials in Rwanda as they are “not likely to be believed”.

“As a result they will be sent back to countries like Iran, Pakistan or Jamaica,” Rocca says, pointing out that LGBTQ+ people in those countries are often killed because of their sexual or gender identity.

“The reason to remove this policy is because it could mean that many more LGBTQI people could die,” Rocca says.

‘Terrifying’ that Tory leadership candidates want to push ahead with Rwanda plan

On Wednesday morning (13 July), there were eight candidates still standing in the Tory leadership race. Jeremy Hunt, seen as one of the more moderate candidates, has pledged to expand the Rwanda scheme to deport refugees arriving via the English Channel to even more countries.

Every other candidate running for the leadership is supportive of pushing ahead with the scheme, which human rights campaigners have repeatedly warned could put vulnerable refugees in danger.

“To be honest, it’s a terrifying prospect that any of those prospective leaders want to keep this policy. It’s a missed opportunity,” Rocca says.

Migrants, picked up at sea attempting to cross the English Channel, are helped ashore from an Royal National Lifeboat Institution's (RNLI) lifeboat at Dungeness on the southeast coast of England.

Migrants, picked up at sea attempting to cross the English Channel, are helped ashore from an Royal National Lifeboat Institution’s (RNLI) lifeboat at Dungeness on the southeast coast of England. (BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty)

He continues: “It angers us and it makes us really, really sad that a potential new prime minister sees an opportunity to boost their campaign by keeping a policy that could mean death for LGBTQI people.”

That’s echoed by Daniel Sohege, director of Stand For All, an asylum advocacy group. “It’s incredibly sad to see all of the candidates for Conservative leader, and PM, are endorsing the plan to deport vulnerable people to Rwanda,” Sohege says.

If any candidate wants to show humanity, and respect for the LGBTQ community, they have to pledge to stop this policy.

“This is a policy which should never have seen the light of day, and should definitely be consigned to history now there is a chance of a new leader. It will cause particular harm to LGBTQ individuals, who face significant risks of persecution in Rwanda.

“If any candidate wants to show humanity, and a respect for the LGBTQ community in particular, they have to pledge to stop this policy.”

According to The Times, the government has put on hold its plans to send a second flight filled with migrants to Rwanda until after a new prime minister is in place. The Tory leadership contest is expected to declare a winner on 5 September.

Furthermore, the High Court has decided to delay a judicial review of the Rwanda policy until September. Detention Action, an asylum advocacy organisation, had launched a legal challenge against the policy.

A protester holds a placard describing the Rwanda deportations as dangerous for LGBTQ people during a demonstration.

The UK government is attempting to deport refugees to Rwanda. (Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty)

Bella Sankey, director of Detention Action, welcomed the decision to postpone the hearing, saying it will give their legal team “the time they need to gather evidence against this controversial policy”.

“The attorney general accepted that the policy would breach our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, so we ask all the other Tory leadership candidates to commit to dumping this policy on day one as prime minister.”

Attorney general Suella Braverman is among the Tory leadership candidates, and has vowed to take Britain out of the Strasbourg court over the ruling, saying: “It is unacceptable that a foreign court stopped the flight.” The court is international, not foreign, with one judge for each of the 46 member nations, including the UK.

There was outrage among asylum activists when the UK government announced its Rwanda plan in April. Ever since, advocates have pleaded with officials to scrap the policy – but the government hasn’t budged.

In June, the UK government’s first flight to Rwanda was halted at the last minute after the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) intervened.

Ministers initially said they would introduce new measures in parliament which would allow them to ignore the ECHR injunction, however that has now been put on hold, with officials telling The Times that sending a flight to Rwanda while the leadership contest is ongoing would generate too much controversy.