UK minister claims Rwanda is safe for gay migrants – these queer organisations disagree

Illegal Migration Minister Michael Tomlinson

A UK minister has claimed that Rwanda is a “progressive” country where LGBTQ+ migrants will be safe, despite warnings from queer charities. 

Illegal migration minister Michael Tomlinson praised Rwanda’s record on LGBTQ+ rights on Tuesday (23 April) after the UK government passed its controversial bill to send asylum seekers to the East African nation. 

Despite the UK government itself admitting that LGBTQ+ people could face discrimination in Rwanda, Tomlinson described the country as “very progressive”. 

When asked if queer migrants could be safely sent to the country, Tomlinson reportedly replied: “Yes they can, because it’s set out within the constitution.”

The Standard reported him as adding: “It is not unlawful to be gay in Rwanda and discrimination on any grounds is unlawful in Rwanda.”

He continued: “Frankly some of the debate we’ve heard in the House of Commons and the House of Lords, not recently but in the early days, was very patronising and almost supercilious in looking down at Rwanda.”

You may like to watch

A protester holds a placard which states "No deportations to Rwanda" during a demonstration to halt deportations of refugees to Rwanda
Protesters demonstrate against deportation flights to Rwanda (SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images/Vuk Valcic)

LGBTQ+ people subject to ‘discrimination, violence and abuse’ in Rwanda

Data from Equaldex shows that while homosexuality is legal in Rwanda, protection against discrimination for LGBTQ+ people is not robust, and same-sex marriage and adoption is still illegal. Overall, the country is rated 27 out of 100 for LGBTQ+ equality. 

Human Rights Watch added that while Rwanda does not criminalise homosexuality, LGBTQ+ people have faced “stigma”, while the country has also reportedly rejected asylum claims from individuals persecuted for their sexuality. 

According to a Rwandan refugee in the UK who spoke to PinkNews in 2022, LGBTQ+ people are still being “bullied” and “rejected” for their sexuality.

“There’s a lot of evidence that sexual orientation and gender identity is still taboo and the government doesn’t want to do anything about that,” he told PinkNews.

LGBTQ+ organisation Rainbow Migration said they were “devastated” to see the passage of the Rwanda bill, and that LGBTQ+ people are subjected to “discrimination, violence and abuse” in the country. 

The organisation stressed that there is “widespread evidence of ill-treatment and abuse faced by LGBTQI+ people in Rwanda”, and that the situation is “so poor that people have sought asylum in the UK based on their sexual orientation”. 

Leila Zadeh, executive director at Rainbow Migration, added: “It is dystopian that this government has passed a law that ignores facts and declares contrary to evidence that Rwanda is a safe country. 

“Most of us welcome people who have fled unimaginable horrors, but instead this government is intent on sending them to danger.” 

The founder and CEO of LGBTQ+ charity Micro Rainbow, Sebastian Rocca, added in a statement: “Micro Rainbow currently works with two lesbians who were forced to leave Rwanda for their safety. In the past, LGBTQI people successfully gained refugee status in the UK. This means that Rwanda was not found to be a safe country for LGBTQI people.”

Rocca added that processing LGBTQ+ asylum claims in Rwanda is “unthinkable” and “could even mean death for many of our beneficiaries”.

“Most British people believe that the scheme is unprincipled and inhumane,” Rocca said.

“It’s time the Government committed to create safe routes and a humane and dignified immigration system that we can all be proud of. The UK should be a place of sanctuary for LGBTQI refugees, somewhere they can live and love openly, and rebuild their lives.”