Sian Norris speaks to an Iranian refugee about the impact of the Rwanda scheme on people seeking asylum from the repressive regime

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Nearly one in five migrants receiving a ‘notice of intent’ that they will be deported to Rwanda are from Iran – a country condemned by Foreign Secretary James Cleverly as being “human rights violators” with a regime that is “oppressing the Iranian people”.

The data, collated by Together for Refugees’ member Care4Calais, comes as the UK Government announces new sanctions against the Iranian regime.

But, while the Foreign Secretary takes a clear stance against human rights violations in Iran, his Government is pursuing its plan to deport people from the country to Rwanda. 

“MPs are saying they support Iranians, they go on social media to support the protests,” Ali – a refugee actor, activist and performer from Iran – told Byline Times. “Then Iranians are essentially the first of the bunch that you send to Rwanda – how does that make sense?”

The controversial Migration and Economic Development Partnership between Rwanda and the UK Government is designed to deport people who enter the UK ‘illegally’, such as via small boats across the Channel, to the African country. Once there, they will be supported to claim asylum and resettle in Rwanda.

“I believe the Rwanda scheme is the most inhumane thing to ever happen,” Ali said. 

It has been condemned internationally and beset by legal challenges. No one has yet been removed from the UK under the agreement. 

Together With Refugees and Care4Calais reviewed 213 notices of intent from the Government to people arriving in the UK – revealing 18% are from Iran.

Nearly three quarters (72%) of people in a sample fled one of five countries with known human rights concerns: Afghanistan, Eritrea, Sudan and Syria (as well as Iran). 

Four-fifths (82%) of people claiming asylum from the five nations are granted refugee status.

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Ali told Byline Times that friends of his seeking asylum in the UK are afraid they will now be sent to Rwanda. “They are worried that they have come from Iran, which is killing people, and they go to Rwanda and are in danger again,” he said. 

Clare Moseley, founder of Care4Calais, said: “Victims of conflict, human rights abuses and torture should not be faced with the the trauma of deportation halfway across the world to a future where we cannot guarantee their safety. This brutal policy will not end small boat crossings, it won’t stop people smugglers and it won’t keep refugees safe. There is a kinder and more effective option: give safe passage to refugees in Calais.”

A Violent Regime

Iran has long been accused of severe human rights abuses, but its repression of its own citizens has been increasingly in the spotlight following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after she was arrested and detained by morality police for incorrectly wearing her hijab.

It is widely believed Amini died due to injuries inflicted on her by the police – although the Iranian regime claims she suffered a cardiac arrest. Women’s rights protests broke out across the country, leading to an estimated 30,000 arrests.

In the first month of the protests, more than 150 people were killed by security forces, including teenage girls. 17 protestors have been sentenced to death for taking part in the protests, with four executions carried out so far.  

Earlier this month, Iran executed British national Alireza Akbari, triggering the latest round of sanctions announced on 23 January. 

It is of little surprise then that 82% of people seeking asylum from Iran go on to win refugee status in the UK. Despite this, those considered to arrive into the UK ‘illegally’ are now threatened with deportation to Rwanda.

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Before 2022, Iranians made up the biggest nationality group of those entering the UK via small boats – between 2018-21, they were 29% of arrivals. Last year, Albanian people made up the biggest proportion of those arriving into the UK via small boats. 

For Ali – who advocates for refugee rights at the Babylon Project – the most effective way to end the small boat crossings is not to deport people to Rwanda, but to create safe and legal routes into the UK for those fleeing violent and repressive regimes. 

“You say that illegal immigrants are coming to the UK and they need to be deported to Rwanda,” he said. “Show me a safe route. Let them come here legally instead of spending millions closing the border to people who have already lost their life and their country.”


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