Home Office knew Rwanda was refusing LGBTQ+ asylum seekers in 2022, report claims

Activists hold posters with messages opposed to the Rwanda plan outside the Supreme Court.

The Home Office knew almost two years ago that Rwanda was refusing LGBTQ+ asylum seekers, a new report has claimed. 

The UK government plans to send asylum seekers “illegally” entering the UK to the East African country, under legislation going through parliament.

But evidence from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHRC), sent to the Home Office in March 2022, informed the government of difficulties queer asylum seekers face there. 

Home Office papers further show that the department was warned of the torture and abuse LGBTQ+ people face, openDemocracy has reported.

The publication claims the Rwandan government had received five asylum claims linked to sexuality between 2019 and 30 November 2023. Three were offered interviews but left the country before they were conducted, while one person was refused entry. A trans person was granted refugee status in April 2022.

But, in a statement given to the Home Office just two months later, the UNHRC stated that a transgender person granted refugee status had been “placed by the Rwandan authorities in a camp which UNHCR considers entirely inappropriate for that person”. 

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It is not clear if this refers to the same person.

According to the evidence, LGBTQ+ asylum seekers in Rwanda have previously been issued immediate verbal rejections by officials, who said it “is not the place for them”, or “Rwanda does not deal with such issues”. 

The UNHRC did say that Rwanda had allowed two LGBTQ+ individuals to have their cases heard but “the sample is too small and too recent to draw any conclusions as to whether Rwandan practices toward LGBTIQ+ asylum seekers have altered”.

The Home Office was told by the UN agency in 2022 that asylum-seeker interviews, conducted by 10 officials, are so brief that people have “no adequate opportunity to explain a claim”. 

The Rwandan government gave no reason for its refusal of more than 100 asylum claims in 2022. 

‘Illegal, unworkable and fails to protect’

Robbie de Santos, the director of communications and external affairs at Stonewall, said: “This is further evidence that the UK government’s asylum policy is illegal, unworkable and fails to protect or consider the needs of LGBTQ+ asylum seekers.”

Following the Supreme Court ruling last year that deemed the Rwanda plan illegal, MPs voted on Tuesday night (16 January) to back a bill that would override that verdict and declare Rwanda a safe country for asylum seekers, by 320 to 276 votes.

The bill will now pass to the House of Lords where it will be further debated and voted on.

Suella Braverman in Rwanda
Former home secretary Suella Braverman said it was her dream and obsession to see a flight of asylum seekers take off, bound for Rwanda. (Credit: Getty Images)

Leila Zadeh, the executive director at LGBTQ+ asylum seekers’ charity Rainbow Migration, said the government’s own evidence showed Rwanda was dangerous place for the queer community. 

“We have raised concerns about the safety of LGBTQI+ people seeking asylum if they are sent to Rwanda multiple times. It’s a country where LGBTQI+ people are subjected to discrimination, violence and abuse,” Zadeh told openDemocracy.

“It’s abhorrently cruel to send people, who have come here to rebuild their lives in safety, to a far-away place where they have no community and where their lives can be in danger.”  

However, a Home Office spokesperson said: “Rwanda’s constitution includes a broad prohibition on discrimination and does not criminalise or discriminate against sexual orientation in law, policy or practice.

“Everyone considered for relocation will be screened and have access to legal advice. Caseworkers thoroughly assess the credibility of each claim on their individual merit, and no relocations will be made if individuals are at risk.” 

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