The United Kingdom government’s fixation with expelling asylum seekers to Rwanda went from absurd to grotesque this week when it introduced a new “Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill” to parliament.
For many victims of the Rwandan government’s repression, reading article 2.1 must feel like a punch in the gut: “Every decision-maker must conclusively treat the Republic of Rwanda as a safe country.” The decree is yet another sign not just of the UK government’s disconnect from reality but its perversion of the facts.
The bill comes in response to the Supreme Court’s November 15 ruling on the UK’s deal with Rwanda, which found Rwanda is not a safe third country to send asylum seekers. The court drew attention to threats to Rwandans living in the UK as well as extrajudicial killings, deaths in custody, enforced disappearances, torture, and restrictions on media and political freedoms in Rwanda.
Having undermined evidence, ignored human rights organizations’ reports, ignored its own recent assessments, and lost its case in court, the UK government is now desperately trying to circumvent the Supreme Court’s judgement. Earlier this week, the UK and Rwanda signed a binding treaty stating that Rwanda would not send asylum seekers back to their home countries – one of the concerns raised by the Supreme Court.
However the treaty and bill do not address the Rwandan government’s well-established track record of repression and ignoring international human rights obligations. In Rwanda, critics regularly face unfair trials, ill-treatment, and torture. More than a dozen opposition members, two journalists and two commentators currently sit in jail for expressing opinions and criticism of the government. In January, a journalist who was being threatened died in suspicious circumstances.
In the UK, several Rwandans interviewed for a recent report on Rwanda’s extraterritorial repression said UK intelligence and police were in regular contact with them regarding their security. Some Rwandans said they live in fear of surveillance and attack, or of seeing their relatives in Rwanda targeted. “If someone is afraid to open their door … the psychological insecurity is long lasting and as bad as the physical security issue,” said one interviewee in London.
The UK can’t legislate its way around the fact that Rwanda counters criticism with violence and abuse, including against refugees. The UK is at a dangerous crossroads, with the home secretary acknowledging the bill is not in compliance with the UK’s human rights act. The UK parliament should vote against this bill and the government should abandon its Rwanda deal once and for all.