Politics

Modern slavery survivors face being sent to Rwanda after MPs vote down deportation bill amendments

Victims fear arrest and deportation to Rwanda if they come forward for help, a charity has warned

UK Jamaica policy

Protesters outside the Rwanda High Commission. Image: Greg Barradale/Big Issue

Survivors of modern slavery in the UK face being sent to Rwanda and fear arrest if they seek help, charities have warned, after MPs stripped out protections from Rishi Sunak’s new Rwanda bill.

Peers in the House of Lords had inserted an amendment saying survivors should not be removed to Rwanda until the impact it would have on their physical and mental health is assessed. But in a vote on Monday (18 March) night, MPs in the House of Commons decided to scrap the safeguard.

There are fears that the Rwanda plan – which the government intends to act as a deterrent to those coming to the UK – will discourage victims from speaking out for fear of deportation.

“Survivors of exploitation in the UK, including those who are in the country legally, as well as those who have been forced or coerced into arriving illegally, overstaying their visa, or who fled here to claim sanctuary, have been frequently conflated with ‘small boats’ arrivals, people smuggling, or cynically accused of playing the UK’s immigration system,” said Dr Matthew Young, research and policy lead for Causeway, a charity which supports survivors of modern slavery.

“As a result, the laws and support systems in place to protect survivors of exploitation have been whittled away at to the point many victims now fear arrest and detention if they come forward.

“Where previously support was offered to a survivor even if they were forced to enter the country illegally, or were forced to commit a crime as part of their exploitation, this is no longer the case, and people who have faced modern slavery abuses, now also face the prospect of being removed to Rwanda.”

The Safety of Rwanda Bill was introduced after the Supreme Court ruled the Rwanda asylum plan illegal, finding the African nation to be an unsafe country where vulnerable asylum seekers could be returned to their place of origin. Sunak came up with the bill to defy the Supreme Court and declare Rwanda safe.

The bill will go back to the Lords in its original form, with peers to vote again on Wednesday (20 March).

Euan Fraser, senior policy and research advisor at the charity Hope for Justice, which identifies victims of modern slavery and offers support to survivors, told the Big Issue: “The policy of removing survivors of trafficking to Rwanda will heighten vulnerability to modern slavery and human trafficking for individuals who often have little control over where they go, are deceived about entry into a country, and have little or no knowledge about their rights.

“The government risks penalising survivors of exploitation for the actions of those who exploit them, while deporting the prosecution witnesses and so undermining the prospect of prosecuting criminal gangs.”

Speaking in the debate on Monday, Labour’s shadow minister for immigration Stephen Kinnock described the protections as a “moral imperative”.

He added: “It really should go without saying that modern slavery victims should not be sent to Rwanda but, sadly, with this government, basic moral decency is a scarce commodity.”

During the debate, where MPs voted down all 10 amendments inserted by the Lords, former Tory minister Robert Buckland warned that Sunak’s plan risked “riding a coach and horses through our important provision on modern slavery.”

New analysis has found the final cost of the scheme could reach £3.9bn, blowing the officially stated costs out of the water.

Speaking in parliament, illegal migration minister Michael Tomlinson said the UK’s treaty with Rwanda means the African nation “must take all necessary steps” to ensure the needs of survivors of modern slavery are accommodated.

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