Home Office Rwanda Plan Accused of Being‘Fundamentally Flawed’
New research exposes the incoherence of declaring Rwanda a safe third country of asylum, Sian Norris reports
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The UK Government is accused of omitting crucial information about Rwanda’s track record on asylum rights in Home Office publications about its controversial Migration and Economic Development Partnership with the East African country, according to a new report from the charity Asylos.
The report was published as Home Secretary Priti Patel refused to attend a planned session giving evidence to Parliament’s Home Affairs Committee where she was expected to answer questions about the Rwanda partnership, among other issues.
The partnership allows for people who arrive in the UK via irregular routes such as small boats to be deported to Rwanda, where they are invited to claim asylum. It has been criticised by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), backbench Conservative MPs, the Prince of Wales, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and migrant rights charities. A flight intending to take migrant people to Rwanda last month was cancelled after a last minute legal challenge.
Now a report published by the charity Asylos, which monitors asylum policy, has assessed the policy and its associated publications and found that the available evidence on the Rwandan asylum system “fails to fully support the overall Home Office assessment that Rwanda is a safe third country of asylum”.
The report analysed the contents of the Country Policy and Information Note: Rwanda, asylum system (CPIN), to assess Rwanda’s record on refugee rights. The CPIN is created and published by the Home Office to decide whether a person relocated to Rwanda would face a real risk of being subjected to treatment contrary to Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
It found that there were multiple omissions of important information from sources consulted or cited by the Home Office, but not selected for inclusion in the asylum system CPIN. These included indications that people seeking asylum in Rwanda had struggled to access the system, with marginalised groups such as those not from the region or members of the LGBTIQ community facing particular challenges.
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There were also concerns that Rwanda’s asylum system needs to significantly increase its capacity to meet the growing demands of the policy, with inadequacies in the current procedure meaning people may be at risk of staying in harsh living conditions, as well as be at risk of deportation back to their country of origin where they face harm or persecution.
According to UNHCR data, as of December 2021 there were only 393 asylum seekers in Rwanda. The report’s authors remarked that it is “uncertain how the current asylum system would accommodate a potentially sharp increase in asylum seekers”. Questions remain unanswered about how quickly Rwanda can increase its capacity, particularly when the number of people potentially deported from the UK remains uncapped. Specific concerns were raised about how to increase capacity for interpretation and legal services.
Colin Yeo, immigration and asylum barrister, blogger, writer and consultant at Garden Court Chambers in London and founder of the Free Movement immigration law website said in response to Asylos’ findings: “This detailed and balanced report exposes huge gaps in the official Home Office assessment of Rwanda, lack of evidence to support the conclusions reached and highly selective quoting of some sources of information. The picture that emerges is of a retrospective attempt to justify a political decision already made by ministers”.
A major cause for concern was a suggestion that the Home Office was failing to learn from the Israeli Government’s troubled policy of relocating asylum seekers from Israel to Rwanda during the 2010s.
The countries had signed a deal similar to the Migration and Development Partnership, however the policy was criticised for failing to provide adequate support to asylum seekers relocated to Rwanda, which led to many people leaving Rwanda and making the dangerous journey to Europe – often aided by people smugglers.
A number of sources to the Home Office reported that as soon as asylum seekers were relocated from Israel to Rwanda, many were coerced into travelling undocumented across the border into Uganda. Others swiftly re-embarked on the journey to Europe, due to the absence of the promised opportunities to seek asylum, gain legal status and start a new life in Rwanda.
One source provided information to the Home Office about an Eritrean national relocated to Rwanda who was held in “prison-like” conditions in a hotel, before an immigration official tried to smuggle him to Uganda.
“‘There was someone, he came after a day or two to the hotel,” said the Eritrean refugee. “He said: ‘come, you are going now’. We said: ‘no, we first have to receive the documents’. He replied: ‘No, there are no documents. You came here, if you don’t want [to go to Uganda], we give you nothing. Everybody has to know that we will not accept anyone. But, if you want to go to Uganda, come here and pay [USD] 250’”.
The relevant information from this source was omitted in the asylum system CPIN, Asylos confirms.
The report also describes the experience of Alfie Semene, who was sent from Tel Aviv to Kigali with 11 other Eritreans. On arrival they found “no asylum. None of the things Israeli authorities had promised”. Instead, the Rwandan immigration officer who met Alfie on his arrival offered to arrange for him to be smuggled to Uganda. Another group of Eritreans sent to Rwanda faced similar failings from the asylum system, ending up undocumented with no legal status, and reliant on UNHCR handouts.
Although the sources on the failures of the Israel policy were consulted by the Home Office, Asylos once again found “relevant information was omitted from the asylum system CPIN”.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Our own assessment of Rwanda has found it is a fundamentally safe and secure country with a track record of supporting asylum seekers, including working with the UN Refugee Agency which said the country has a safe and protective environment for refugees. As part of our partnership, the UK is providing an initial investment of £120m to boost the development of Rwanda, including jobs, skills and opportunities to benefit both migrants and host communities”.