The Home Office has published its equality impact assessment into plan to send people seeking asylum to Rwanda – but campaigners are concerned that it fails to account for the risks to LGBTIQ people, reports Sian Norris

Gay and lesbian people seeking asylum via irregular routes and relocated to Rwanda will not experience indirect discrimination, the Home Office claims, despite evidence of ill-treatment of the LGBTIQ community by Rwandan police and wider society.

The Home Office’s Equality Impact Assessment into its Migration and Economic Development Partnership with Rwanda acknowledges that ill-treatment of gay and lesbian people is “more than one-off” but argues that the equality impact is “neutral” rather than “negative”. Homosexuality is legal in Rwanda, but remains taboo and there is no legal recognition of same-sex relationships. 

“The Government should clarify, as a matter of urgency, the precise level of mistreatment of LGBTIQ people it finds acceptable,” Sonia Lenegan, Legal and Policy Director at Rainbow Migration, told Byline Times.

The controversial proposal, announced last month by Home Secretary Priti Patel, would send people seeking asylum who arrive via irregular routes such as small boats across the Channel to Rwanda, rather than granting them asylum in the UK. Once they are deported from the UK, the individual would have to claim asylum in Rwanda where they would be expected to remain.

It has been much-criticised by migrant rights groups and is already facing a legal challenge. The assessment was published as the Government announced its intention to tell the “First Illegal migrants … of impending removal to Rwanda”.

Human rights organisations have identified numerous incidents of the LGBTIQ community facing violence and discrimination. Such violence comes from the state itself, with police using laws designed to protect public morality to target LGBTIQ people. 

In September last year, Rwandan authorities rounded up and arbitrarily detained more than a dozen gay and transgender people, sex workers, street children in the months before the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. They were accused of “not representing Rwandan values”. 

Activists have also noted increasing acts of violence against the LGBTIQ community in Rwanda, along with calls to incite violence, and a growing interest in excluding the community from constitutionally guaranteed rights.

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The equality impact assessment recognises that transgender women seeking asylum are at risk of indirect discrimination should they be relocated to Rwanda. The report states that trans people, particularly trans women, experience ill treatment such as arbitrary arrests and detention as well as degrading treatment. It therefore recommends that these factors should be “carefully considered” when assessing whether a person seeking asylum should be resettled. 

The assessment also examines whether people who are married or in a civil partnership will face direct or indirect discrimination as a result of the policy, and found no evidence to suggest they would. There is no legal recognition of same-sex marriages in Rwanda.

“The equality impact assessment accepts that LGBTIQ people in Rwanda are subject to abuse, yet the Government intends to send them there regardless,” said Lenegan.

The equality impact assessment looks at a range of protected characteristics, including sex, race and age.

In terms of sex, the majority of people who make irregular journeys into the UK are men, meaning they will be most impacted by the policy. The assessment notes that women are at risk of gender-based violence in Rwanda, but that this is not systematic and the Rwandan Government is encouraging women to report incidents of domestic and sexual abuse. As such, the assessment believes the impact on women’s equality is “neutral”. In contrast, the United Nations sees gender-based violence seen as prevalent and serious. 

Further, the US State Department has identified that Rwanda’s Government has not met the minimum standards for eliminating trafficking in the country, although notes that it is making efforts to do so. The Home Office states that the risk of trafficking is “lower” for urban refugees and that women and girls are not at “real risk” of it. The UK’s ambassador for human rights, Rita French, thinks differently: last year she expressed her disappointment that Rwanda “did not support the UK recommendation to screen, identify and provide support for trafficking victims”. 

Paola Uccellari, Interim Chief Executive at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said: “As we said in April, the Government’s Rwanda scheme should have no place in our asylum system. No-one seeking safety in the UK should face deportation to a country half way around the world, but the fact we now know Priti Patel plans to ship LGBTIQ people, trafficking and torture survivors to Rwanda, shows us just how depraved these plans are”.

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Sian Norris

A Deterrent?

The Home Secretary has claimed the proposal to resettle people seeking asylum in Rwanda will deter people from making dangerous journeys across the Channel into the UK.

This notion of the policy as a deterrent is repeatedly mentioned in the equality impact assessment. When it comes to impact on young men, who are more likely to be affected by the policy, the assessment notes that “as one of the policy’s key aims would be to deter individuals from undertaking dangerous small boat journeys, and younger adult individuals are more likely to have used this method of entry, we consider any disadvantage to the 18-39 cohort to be justified as a proportionate means of achieving the policy’s aim, which is to discourage dangerous journeys to reach the UK”.

But the idea that the Rwanda policy could work as a deterrent is undermined by a previously published equality impact assessment into the UK Government’s New Plan for Immigration. That assessment, reported on by this paper, admitted that measures to “increase security and deterrence” could encourage people to “attempt riskier means of entering the UK”. It also stated that “evidence supporting the effectiveness of this [security and deterrence] approach is limited”. 

There is also limited evidence that people seek asylum in the UK based on Government asylum policy – instead people migrate to countries where they speak the language or where there are existing family or community links. 

Since the start of the year, more than 8,000 people have attempted to arrive in the UK via small boats across the Channel, despite numerous policy announcements intended to deter people from taking irregular routes. That this number is three times more than in the same period last year, it would seem the deterrent approach is not working.

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