The Home Office’s evidence for the claim pointed to the UNHCR’s Emergency Transit Mechanism – but this scheme differs from the UK’s plans to resettle people who arrive in the UK ‘illegally’ to Rwanda

Questions have been raised about the Home Secretary assertion to MPs that the European Union has resettled individuals in Rwanda. 

Speaking at a House of Commons debate on 19 April about the controversial plan to send people who enter the UK via irregular routes to Rwanda, Priti Patel defended the policy to the Scottish National Party’s Joanna Cherry who had raised concerns about Rwanda’s human rights record.

“Over 130,000 refugees have been resettled in Rwanda and, it is not just a safe country, but one where both the [United Nations refugee agency] UNHCR and the EU have resettled individuals,” Patel said. 

But there are questions around her claims.

A Freedom of Information request submitted to the Home Office asked for clarification on what the UK Government knows about the EU resettling migrant people to Rwanda.

In response, the Home Office said: “It is correct to say that UNHCR and the EU have worked together to resettle refugees to Rwanda, in particular through the Emergency Transit Mechanism (ETM)”.

To support this assertion, the Home Office shared an article from the UNHCR website titled ‘ETM Rwanda: EU Support Helps UNHCR to Bring Fresh Hope to a Young Refugee’. However, the article shows profound differences between the support the EU provides the UNHCR with the ETM; and the proposal to resettle people who arrive in the UK via irregular routes to Rwanda where they can claim asylum and who will not be able to return to the UK once their asylum claim has been processed.

One is a scheme partly-funded by the EU that evacuates African refugees to a transit facility in Rwanda, where they can make decisions about their future and be resettled elsewhere. The other is a policy that sends migrant people from a place of safety in the UK to a country where they are unlikely to have any ties. 

There is no evidence cited by either the Home Office or the article it shared that the EU itself has resettled individuals in Rwanda.

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A Home Office press officer insisted to Byline Times that the EU “has a scheme” (providing funding to the ETM) to resettle refugees to Rwanda, from where they are free to move to a new home.

They also said the Migration and Economic Development Partnership resettles people who “enter the UK illegally” to Rwanda where they are not detained and where they can receive support, claim asylum or – as per the ETM – move elsewhere. The press officer pointed to a fact sheet on the partnership. 

The fact sheet explains that “people will have all their needs looked after while their asylum claims are being considered in Rwanda. This includes safe and clean accommodation, food, healthcare and amenities. They will have full access to translators and will be able to access legal support in order to appeal decisions in Rwanda’s courts”.

People who are “relocated” to the country “will be given a generous support package, including up to five years of training, accommodation and healthcare”. They are “free to leave” if they wish.

Sile Reynolds, head of asylum advocacy at Freedom from Torture, told Byline Times: “The Emergency Transit Mechanism is an urgent humanitarian evacuation programme, designed to move vulnerable and traumatised refugees from a situation of immediate danger, to a temporary transit location in Rwanda before they are ultimately resettled in Europe or North America.

“It could not be more different to the UK’s Rwanda scheme which moves refugees from a place of safety to one of danger and insecurity. This is nothing more than a cynical and cack-handed attempt to distract critics from the brutality and unfairness of the Rwanda scheme.”

The UNHCR has strongly criticised the agreement between the UK and Rwanda, saying that it “threatens the international refugee protection regime”. Following a meeting with Priti Patel and Rwandan Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta in Geneva on 19 May, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi reiterated these concerns.


The Difference Between the ETM and UK’s Rwanda Scheme

The Emergency Transit Mechanism (ETM) is a humanitarian solution introduced by the UNHCR to address the torture and exploitation of asylum seekers and refugees in Libya. It helps evacuate people held in detention in Libya to a safe country such as Rwanda or Niger.

The article shared in the FOI response by the Home Office provides a case study of 18-year-old Beza Yimesgen, who was smuggled to Libya and endured human trafficking, rape and torture before being held in detention. Under the ETM, Beza was evacuated to Rwanda transit facility in Gashora. She is now set to be resettled by the UNHCR to Canada. 

The Eu was one of the first bodies to fund the ETM when it was proposed, donating €12.5 million from the EU Trust Fund for Africa. The money helped the UNHCR to evacuate people such as Beza.

“The European Union and its member states are among the largest partners of UNHCR globally, but also to the Rwanda Operation,” said Ahmed Baba Fall, UNHCR Representative in Rwanda, quoted in the article. 

“Their remarkable contributions to the ETM programme in Rwanda, as well as the generous resettlement pledges clearly demonstrate a genuine humanitarian commitment to the refugee cause. I would like to commend the EU for helping us make a new start, new hopes for these vulnerable refugees.”

The Rwanda SchemeElectoral Racism to Policy Racism

Martin Shaw

The ETM evacuates people to a transit facility, like the one in Gashora, where the UNHCR can determine their refugee status and support them to either be resettled in a third country, return to their country of origin, or resettle in Rwanda. Of the 824 who have been received into the system, just over half have been resettled overseas and none have opted to remain in Rwanda.

The clue, however, appears to be in the name: transit facility. This is not a permanent home, but a place where people can start to determine their futures after abuse and violence while receiving medical and psychosocial support. 

Just over 50% of people evacuated to Gashora have moved on to Sweden; while 26.9% have gone to Canada. 17.7% were resettled in Norway; 3.8% in France; and 0.8% in Belgium. All the people evacuated to Gashora were from other African countries.

This seems very different from the EU resettling people seeking asylum in Rwanda, which would involve sending people who are from, or who have arrived into, an EU country to Rwanda permanently – rather than supporting evacuation efforts from Libya to a transit facility. 

It is also profoundly different to the policy agreed by the British and Rwandan Governments. 

The Memorandum of Understanding agreed by Britain and Rwanda allows the Home Office to transport people who arrive in the UK via irregular routes – such as small boats across the Channel – to Rwanda. Once they arrive in the central African nation, they are expected to apply for asylum in Rwanda or leave to go elsewhere. If their asylum claim is successful, they can remain in Rwanda – if not, they will be deported to their country of origin or apply for another form of leave to remain. 

The two policies are not the same – raising questions as to why the Home Office is using a different model as evidence to support the Home Secretary’s claims that the EU has resettled refugees in Rwanda. 

The evidence provided by the Home Office does not suggest that the evacuations carried out under the ETM are anything like the resettlement policy introduced by the UK Government – or that the EU has itself resettled refugees to Africa.

“The Government is well aware that anyone transferred to Rwanda under the scheme will not receive anything like the healthcare, accommodation, trauma rehabilitation or durable solution offered through the ETM,” Sile Reynolds added.

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

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