Cruel and inhumane: the Rwanda scheme

What is the Government scheme ?

This is the agreement with the Rwandan government, which was published today.

This morning, the papers were all reporting that asylum seekers would be sent to Rwanda “for processing,” implying something akin to the Australian system. This is inaccurate, and has led to a lot of confusion. Asylum seekers sent to Rwanda will first be very briefly processed in the UK, then given a one way ticket to central Africa, where if their asylum application is successful, they will remain in Rwanda, they won’t be offered return passage to the UK.

Exactly which refugees the Government is hoping to target will probably become clearer in the next few days. Rwanda see this first and foremost as a means of admitting large numbers of young male workers. Under the agreement though no asylum seekers will be exempt from consideration.

The human rights perspective

Rwanda may have signed up to certain obligations of fair treatment, but it’s no safe haven. The UK has recently granted asylum to refugees from Rwanda. Human Rights Watch have documented evidence of human rights abuses in the country. There are particular concerns about the treatment of LGBT people there.

Even setting all that aside, deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda is an abandonment of the UK’s obligations under refugee conventions. These are asylum seekers who’ve applied to us for help, not to Rwanda, they’ll all have various reasons for coming to the UK (some reasons better than others). Deporting them to Rwanda, perhaps thousands of miles away from family and support networks in an unfamiliar and difficult environment, could have a devastating effect on many individual lives. It’s a cruel and inhumane policy.

The legal perspective

The Nationality and Borders Bill will create the legal framework for this to happen. The Government claim, of course, that the policy is fully compliant with international law. This will be seriously tested in the courts, and it’s very possible that legal challenges alone could delay implementation.

If and when implemented, the Government will face a raft of judicial reviews on individual cases which raise a variety of legal issues. The initial screening by the UK will collect a large range of data about the individual. Let’s say that a decision is then made to deport. The decision has to be ratified by the Rwandan authorities, which could stretch the process out longer. In the meantime, the asylum seeker will have consulted a solicitor, who will look at things like whether the immigration officers have followed their own guidance in selecting this person for deportation; whether there are any health issues in putting the person on a plane; whether there are any human rights issues because they’ll be at risk in Rwanda; and so forth.

After deportation the theory is that the asylum seeker will have to go through the Rwandan legal system. What guarantees have been given that they’ll all have access to solicitors ? And will they have to pay for any legal representation ? Also, what if they were deported illegally before they’d exhausted their appeals ? Or what if they were put in detention on arrival in Rwanda, in contravention of the agreement with the UK Government ? What would be their legal rights then ?

What is the Government trying to do, and can it work ?

The main argument is that this will be a deterrent that will reduce the numbers arriving by “illegal” means. Whether it would actually work as a deterrent is in dispute. Evidence from Australia suggests that their system of offshore detention centres, which though it works differently is just as cruel, doesn’t have the desired deterrent effect.

The scheme is hugely costly, and there’s a lot of speculation that it will end up costing the Government a lot more than simply processing asylum claims in the UK.

More fundamentally, the Government is trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. In the last 12 months, the British public have demonstrated enormous compassion toward Afghan refugees and Ukrainian refugees. The message is clear: what’s needed isn’t more draconian measures to stop people coming in, but more help for those desperate people arriving on our shores.

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