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The UK wants to send asylum seekers to Rwanda. But what about its human rights record?

As the UK announces it will send failed asylum seekers to Rwanda, many are worried about the country's human rights record

Home Secretary Priti Patel and Minister Biruta sign the migration and economic development partnership between the UK and Rwanda

Home Secretary Priti Patel and Minister Biruta sign the migration and economic development partnership between the UK and Rwanda. Image: UK Home Office/Flickr

The government has announced a new £120 million ‘migration partnership’ with Rwanda giving rejected asylum seekers a one way ticket to the East African nation.

Announcing the programme, both Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel called Rwanda a “safe” country with “one of the strongest records for refugee resettlement”. Johnson also said that asylum seekers relocated to Rwanda would have the opportunity to “prosper” and “thrive”.

Both seem to be forgetting about Rwanda’s recent human rights violations and treatment of the victims of human trafficking, the very things they are claiming to protect. Here’s what you need to know.

How will the scheme work?

Refugees who arrive in the UK will be subject to a Home Office assessment to determine whether they are what the government calls “economic migrants” or asylum seekers escaping violence and persecution.

This new immigration package would see rejected asylum seekers flown to Rwanda, where the Rwandan government has said migrants will be “entitled to full protection under Rwandan law”. But details are yet to be revealed as to how the asylum process will work for migrants once they arrive in Rwanda.

Marley Morris, associate director for migration, trade and communities at think tank IPPR, called the scheme “unethical, unsustainable, and likely to come at a huge cost to the UK taxpayer.”

“Sending vulnerable people who have fled persecution to offshore processing hubs is a recipe for further human rights violations,” he added.

In 2021, 28,526 people are believed to have crossed the Channel in small boats, up from 8,404 in 2020. The majority of them being single men.

Rwanda’s human rights record

Many have been quick to point out that Rwanda has a questionable record when it comes to human rights, a record that the UK government itself expressed concern over in 2021.

In January, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) wrote to the United Nations calling for investigations into “allegations of extrajudicial killings, deaths in custody, enforced disappearances and torture”. Then in July the FCO wrote again, adding its “disappoint” that Rwanda would not provide further support to victims of trafficking.

Johnson made a point of wanting to “save countless lives” from human trafficking in his speech,  but when asked about Rwanda’s human rights record, the prime minister warned critics of the “risk of stereotyping” the African nation.

Rwandan president Paul Kagame has faced a number of allegations regarding human rights violations including the detention of Paul Rusesabagina, a human rights activist and outspoken critic of the president. Since taking office in 2000, Kagame has regularly been accused of the political oppression of his opponents.

The NGO Human Rights Watch has also previously said “arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, and torture in official and unofficial detention facilities is commonplace, and fair trial standards are routinely flouted… Arbitrary detention and mistreatment of street children, sex workers and petty vendors occurs widely.”

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