Rwanda ‘not safe enough’ for asylum deal and Priti Patel must reconsider, parliamentary committee says

Priti Patel must reconsider a deal to send asylum seekers to Rwanda because it is not safe enough and may break the law, a parliamentary committee has said.

A letter to the home secretary warned that removing people against their will to “another state where they face a real risk of serious human rights abuses” is prohibited under international law.

Joanna Cherry QC, chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, said: “While we have received mixed reports on the safety of Rwanda, particularly for vulnerable groups, and the adequacy of its asylum system, we are not satisfied that it is a sufficiently safe destination to be a partner in this kind of asylum agreement.”

The letter, sent on 21 July, pointed to government documents disclosed as part of the ongoing High Court battle over the deal.

They showed that both the Foreign Office and UK High Commissioner to Rwanda advised against the agreement, and that the country was “initially excluded from the shortlist of potential partner countries for the proposed immigration policy on human rights grounds”.

The reasons given included that it “has been accused of recruiting refugees to conduct armed operations in neighbouring countries”, has a “poor human rights record regardless of the conventions it has signed up to” and has been criticised by the UK for extrajudicial killings, deaths in custody, enforced disappearances, torture and crackdowns on anyone critical of the regime.

The High Court was also told that several asylum seekers selected for removal to Rwanda by British authorities have since been identified as potential victims of trafficking.

Official government guidance, which was published after the deal was announced in April, found Rwanda to be a safe country but the claimants revealed that the Rwandan government itself had been sent a draft to review and asked for edits.

Ms Cherry’s letter set out a series of concerns on behalf of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which includes MPs and peers from the Conservative Party, Labour, Liberal Democrats and Scottish National Party.

It warned that the agreement “has been put in place without adequate assurances as to the safety of those removed to Rwanda,” adding: “It appears clear that the memorandum of understanding offers a person who has been removed to Rwanda and then treated incompatibly with their human rights no legal recourse. This is a fundamental concern for ensuring compliance with human rights standards.

“The Joint Committee on Human Rights hopes that the Government will demonstrate commitment to human rights and the protection of refugees and reconsider the UK-Rwanda Migration and Economic Development Partnership (MEDP).”

Ms Cherry wrote that correspondence with the government suggested it was ministers’ intention that “once the individuals have been sent to Rwanda they are no longer the UK’s responsibility”.

“We note that the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has identified the MEDP as an example of the ‘externalisation of international protection’, which is inconsistent with the Refugee Convention,” she added.

Tory leadership candidate Liz Truss ‘completely agrees’ with Rwanda deportation policy

“We are similarly concerned that the MEDP could be seen as an outsourcing of the UK’s own obligations.”

The letter said the committee was “unconvinced” that the plans would deter refugees from crossing the English Channel on small boats, and noted that the government had not increased safe and legal alternatives.

It warned that the memorandum of understanding signed with Rwanda does not exclude any vulnerable groups, “such as LGBTQ asylum seekers, victims of torture or even children”.

“In the absence of established limits, there is an increased risk not only that the policy could be applied too widely but also that it could be limited to certain groups in a discriminatory manner,” Ms Cherry wrote.

“Despite the significance of the decision to take an individual out of the UK asylum system and send them to a country thousands of miles away, appeal rights are limited, with costly judicial review proceedings the only effective mechanism for legal challenge … we are concerned that the lack of an effective appeal process enhances the risk that people will be removed to Rwanda without a fair hearing and in breach of their rights.”

Rwandan government officials have hit back at criticism and defended the country’s human rights record.

When asked about the internal government warnings revealed by the High Court case on Friday, government spokesperson Yolande Makolo said they were “based on wrong information”.

“It is wrong to accuse us of that sort of thing; what we do is offer people a home and safety here, we do not get involved in recruitment for whatever armed movements,” she told the press conference. “That is incorrect information and we want to challenge that because it’s not true.”

The garden and grounds of the Hope Hostel in Kigali, Rwanda, where migrants will stay after arriving from the UK on a deportation flight

(PA Wire)

She said that legal challenges were expected and Rwanda expects the UK government “to do what needs to be done to overcome this challenge”.

“On our side, we remain ready to receive the migrants, we are using this time to prepare and we’re confident that it will go ahead,” Ms Makolo added.

The full judicial review will be heard at the High Court in September, but no ruling will be made before a linked case is heard in October.

Officials said Rwanda had already received the £120m up-front payment from the UK, but would not disclose the individual costs that will be charged for each migrant received.

The British government previously refused freedom of information requests by The Independent asking for information on future payments.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Our world-leading partnership with Rwanda is vital to overhauling the broken asylum system, preventing loss of life in the Channel and breaking the business model of people smugglers.

“Rwanda has been recognised globally for their record in welcoming and integrating migrants and asylum seekers, and our own comprehensive assessment of Rwanda has found it is a fundamentally safe and secure country.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *