The Home Office has admitted that lesbian, gay and bisexual refugees could be persecuted if sent to Rwanda – but still plans to fly them 4,000 miles to Kigali.
The department’s equality impact assessment for the policy states there are “concerns” over the treatment of some LGBTQI+ people in the East African country, and that investigations point to “ill treatment” of this group being “more than one off”.
It comes the day after the Home Office said the first group of people would be informed this week of the government’s intention to relocate them to Rwanda. The first flights were expected to take place in the coming months, it said, adding that lawyers for some of those affected were likely to launch proceedings to stop their removal.
In the report released on Monday, the assessment says “there are concerns about the treatment of some LGBTQI+ people but we will continue to consider the impact on this group and take into account further evidence over the course of the partnership”.
The report notes that homosexuality was decriminalized in 2010, but warns: “At this stage, investigations point to ill treatment being more than one off, but it does not appear to be systemic.”
The government’s assessment of Rwanda’s human rights record, states that there are “not substantial grounds” for believing they would be at risk of treatment contrary to article 3 (freedom from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment) of the European convention of human rights in Rwanda .
At the same time, the Foreign Office travel advice for Rwanda states that “individuals can experience discrimination and abuse, including from local authorities. There are no specific anti-discrimination laws that protect LGBT individuals.”
Lewis Mudge, central Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said the risk assessment was an unrealistic assessment of a country with a poor human rights record.
“The Home Office’s report reads like some serious wishful thinking and they seem to change the facts in order to justify a preordained conclusion. From claiming that refugees are not targeted for exercising their freedom of expression – when Congolese refugees rot in jail for protesting their living conditions – to claiming that LGBT people won’t risk serious harm in Rwanda – when evidence we’ve collected has LGBTI people detained , beaten, insulted and harassed for their sexual identity.”
“This report is not grounded in reality. The Rwandan government has an abysmal record when it comes to guaranteeing internationally recognized refugee rights, statues and protocols. It’s difficult to imagine a less genuine assessment of Rwanda’s shocking human rights record,” he said.
In another document released on Monday night, the government said it could send notices of intent to those coming to the UK without authorization that would warn them they could be sent to Rwanda.
A draft letter said: “I am writing to inform you about how your protection claim is being managed. We have evidence that before you claimed asylum in the United Kingdom, you were present in or had a connection to [name the safe country or countries]. This may have consequences for whether your claim is admitted to the UK asylum system.
“We may also ask Rwanda, another country we consider to be safe, whether it would admit you, under the terms of the migration and economic development partnership between Rwanda and the UK.”
Enver Solomon, the chief executive of the Refugee Council, said letters carrying a threat from Rwanda would prompt many of those waiting for their claims to be processed to disappear and hide from the authorities in the UK.
“The government is failing in its duty of care to people in the asylum system by not recognizing the devastating impact the threat of being expelled to Rwanda is having on them.
“The process it is putting in place lacks compassion and demonstrates an inability to see the face behind the case. It shows how this government simply wants to treat vulnerable people who have fled war and oppression as human cargo to be transported thousands of thousands away out of sight and out of mind,” he said.
The Home Office has been approached for comment.