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New analysis exposes major flaws in evidence for declaring Rwanda a safe third country


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The 11th-hour European Court of Human Rights intervention that prevented the first planned removal of asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda has provided only scant relief to those who may soon find themselves being flown 4,000 miles away to an unknown fate. A fresh attempt to begin removals could occur within weeks, potentially before the courts have ruled on the legality of the scheme. A new report published by Asylos exposes major information gaps and inconsistencies between the government’s assessment that Rwanda is a safe third country of asylum, and the available evidence on the Rwandan asylum system.

Asylos’s report analyses two documents forming part of the evidence base that the government relies on to justify the scheme. These are the country policy and information notes labelled Rwanda, asylum system and Rwanda, assessment. The report points to numerous omissions of relevant country information on a range of key issues, from the functioning of the asylum system to the detention of asylum seekers, refoulement, and harsh living conditions for existing refugees and asylum seekers. 

Selective evidence-gathering

Information found in one source consulted by the Home Office, but not selected for inclusion in the asylum system note, describes a “cumbersome” asylum process that remains “challenging for individuals other than prima facie recognitions”.

The assessment note claims there are not substantial grounds to believe that asylum seekers would be detained. But asylum seekers relocated to Rwanda under a previous deal with Israel were detained. Another source that the Home Office reviewed but did not reflect in the final note mentions a man who “received a UNHCR document stating that he is an asylum seeker. Last year he left the document at the place where he was living, was stopped and arrested and sent to prison for two days”.

Similarly, the assessment note claims that there are not substantial grounds to believe that a person may be at risk of refoulement. However, information found both in sources consulted by the Home Office, and in sources that were available but not consulted, indicate that asylum seekers relocated under the Israel-Rwanda agreement found themselves in a situation of “indirect refoulement”: coerced or forced by circumstance into leaving Rwanda. As one source notes, “testimonies… suggest that the majority, if not all, are being smuggled out of the country by land to Kampala within days of arriving in Kigali. They are not given an opportunity to apply for asylum”.

Missing and contradictory information

There are significant information gaps on the fulfilment of key guarantees in the Memorandum of Understanding agreed between the British and Rwandan governments. In particular, the asylum system note says very little about how potentially large numbers of asylum seekers relocated from the UK will be provided with interpreters and legal counsel at all stages of their claim. Such guarantees would provide essential procedural safeguards, and help to ensure that claims are decided fairly.

Some of the evidence in its own asylum system note undermines the Home Office’s conclusions in the assessment document. For example, the former refers to reports that the Rwandan authorities do not properly consider asylum claims from LGBTQI+ people (paragraph 4.4.2), and are more likely to reject people from the Middle East (4.14.4). Any asylum system that discriminated on the basis of sexuality or country of origin would clearly fall well short of a functioning asylum system which affords adequate access. 

The assessment also concludes that “the right to practical and effective remedy exists” and therefore a person would not be subjected to treatment that would breach Article 3 of the European Court of Human Rights by virtue of shortcomings in the appeals process. But the asylum system note highlights that the Rwandan asylum authorities do not provide reasons for refusing a claim. As the UN Refugee Agency notes, this renders “the right to appeal against a negative decision… difficult or impossible to exercise in practice”. If it is not possible to appeal an incorrect asylum decision, there is a real risk that people could be sent back to countries where they face grave dangers.

Civil society groups have condemned the Rwanda scheme as “inhumane”. Our report raises further concerns about the evidence base used to justify this controversial policy. Whatever new government is formed to replace the Johnson administration will need to restore public faith in its ability to deliver competent and humane governance, including a fair and evidence-based asylum system.

Read Asylos’s full commentary here.

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Emily Wilbourn

Emily Wilbourn is Programme Manager at Asylos. She has a background in research relating to asylum and refugee issues and previously worked at Amnesty International and Freedom from Torture.