Suella Braverman says Rwanda is one of the world’s ‘safest’ countries. LGBTQ+ refugee groups disagree

Suella Braverman

LGBTQ+ refugee groups have condemned Suella Braverman for describing Rwanda as one of the world’s “safest countries”, despite the Home Office admitting queer refugees could face persecution there.

On her visit to Rwanda’s capital Kigali on Sunday (19 March), the home secretary met with the Rwandan government to discuss the Conservative government’s plan to deport asylum seekers to the east-central African nation.

The widely-condemned deal could include the deportation of vulnerable asylum seekers, including survivors of torture and human trafficking.

In a video posted by Home Office, Braverman said the “ground-breaking” partnership with the Rwandan government will see “people who make dangerous and illegal journeys to the UK, such as by small boat, resettled in Rwanda where they will be protected and supported to build a new life”.

Braverman went on to describe Rwanda as “one of the world’s safest countries”, a comment echoed by cabinet office minister, Oliver Dowden, who told SkyNews he is “confident” that LGBTQ+ refugees will be safe in the country. 

But LGBTQ+ refugee support groups have said otherwise, and have called for a “humane and dignified immigration system” that allows people to “live and love”.

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Micro Rainbow CEO, Sebastian Rocca, told PinkNews: “Rwanda is a dangerous place for LGBTQI people.”

Micro Rainbow is a safe house for queer asylum seekers and refugees, which works with LGBTQ+ people who have been forced to flee to the UK “to escape the persecution and discrimination they faced”.

“The idea that LGBTQI asylum seekers could be safely resettled in the country – which has no specific laws protecting LGBTQI people – is illogical, and the risks faced by LGBTQI people in Rwanda has already been acknowledged by the Home Office,” Rocca said.

“Suella Braverman’s commitment to pushing ahead with the Rwanda plan risks turning the UK into a country famous for its cruel policies and attitudes towards people who need safety.”

Rocca called for the Rwanda deal to be scrapped in exchange for a “humane and dignified immigration system”.

“Being able to protect the UK borders should not be about refusing people the right to be themselves, live and love,” he added. 

‘Cruel policy’ 

A spokesperson from City of Sanctuary, a charity focused on supporting asylum seekers in the UK, also told PinkNews that the government’s policy “will cause catastrophic human harm to everyone removed”, but it is “particularly harmful for LGBTQ+ people seeking sanctuary”.

“The situation for LGBTQI+ people in Rwanda is so poor that people from the country have claimed asylum in the UK on the basis of their sexual orientation.

“This cruel policy would condemn people who have already fled persecution to possible further peril.”

‘Illegal and unworkable’

Robbie de Santos, director of communications at Stonewall, told PinkNews: “The home secretary’s comments are simply untrue.”

“We know that LGBTQ+ people in many countries around the world – including Rwanda – currently face increasing persecution, imprisonment and threats of state-sanctioned violence. 

“The current asylum policy that the UK government is pursuing is illegal and unworkable and will result in LGBTQ+ people with the right to seek refuge in the UK having no safe or legal means to do so from their home country.”

Santos said the government’s plans put individuals feeling persecution “at risk of further harm”. 

He added: “The UK government should instead be ensuring that the system fairly processes LGBTQ+ asylum seekers’ claims.”

Braverman’s claims that Rwanda is “safe” for LGBTQ+ refugees follow the Home Office admitting there is evidence that they could face persecution in Rwanda. 

Rwanda deportations taken on ‘case-by-case basis’

A Home Office spokesperson told PinkNews: “No one should be persecuted because of their sexuality or gender identity, and the UK can be rightly proud of its record in providing protection to individuals fleeing persecution based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

“People should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach – this is the fastest route to safety.

“Decisions for relocation to Rwanda will be taken on a case-by-case basis and nobody will be relocated if it is unsafe or inappropriate for them.”

Despite claims that evaluations will be made on a “case-by-case basis”, in a document issued on 9 May 2022, the Home Office admitted that there was “evidence of discrimination and intolerance” towards LGBTQ+ people in Rwanda.

The department’s equality impact assessment for the policy, released at the same time, echoed this: “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.”

It also highlighted that although homosexuality was decriminalised in 2010, “at this stage, investigations point to ill treatment being more than one off, but it does not appear to be systemic”.

But 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.

Sohege said: “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.”

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