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Bristol Refugee Rights strongly opposes UK plans to export asylum seekers to Rwanda

Summary: 

We believe all those fleeing persecution and war should receive safety and welcome. The UK is host to only a fraction of the world’s refugees and asylum seekers and we should not abdicate our responsibility towards those seeking sanctuary. We know that such offshoring schemes implemented by other countries do not deter asylum seekers, nor do they stop people smugglers and they cost much more than resettling asylum seekers within their own borders.

The Government states that it wants to break the chain of criminal gangs who smuggle asylum seekers to our shores in perilous boat journeys. An effective and humane alternative would be to provide safe and legal routes for all people who need to travel to the UK for safety, like the resettlement schemes put in place for Ukrainian and Afghan refugees. The British public have recently displayed huge compassion and support for refugees and we believe that this once again demonstrates the gulf between public opinion and the government’s hard-line approach.

Detailed statement:

We believe all those fleeing persecution and war should receive safety and welcome. The UK is host to only a fraction of the world’s refugees and asylum seekers and we should not abdicate our responsibility towards those seeking sanctuary. We know that such offshoring schemes implemented by other countries do not deter asylum seekers, nor do they stop people smugglers and they cost much more than resettling asylum seekers within their own borders.

The Government states that it wants to break the chain of criminal gangs who smuggle asylum seekers to our shores in perilous boat journeys. An effective and humane alternative would be to provide safe and legal routes for all people who need to travel to the UK for safety, like the resettlement schemes put in place for Ukrainian and Afghan refugees. The British public have recently displayed huge compassion and support for refugees and we believe that this once again demonstrates the gulf between public opinion and the government’s hard-line approach.

Bristol Refugee Rights (BRR) has a number of grave concerns with the plan which aims to permanently resettle successful asylum seekers in Rwanda.

The government itself warned about Rwanda’s record on human rights and on media freedom as recently as last year, and the Home Office’s own figures show the UK even gave asylum to Rwandan refugees as recently as 2021. Under these new powers, Priti Patel would have returned those refugees to persecution in Rwanda.

We know from Australia’s experience with offshore detention that it is a cruel and harmful system which leads to sexual abuse of women and children, harms people’s mental health to the point of self-harm and suicide and leaves refugees in limbo for years. In addition, the Rwandan government’s curbs on media freedom will make it harder for journalists to check the abuse of power.

The situation for LGBTQ+ people in Rwanda is dangerous. Groups of vulnerable refugees, such as torture survivors and LGBTQ+ refugees, are likely to be re-traumatised. In addition, they will be cut off from support from specialist civil society organisations which will not be able to operate in these conditions.  No guarantees have been made by the UK government that people who are LGBTQ+ will not be sent to Rwanda.

We know from other similar schemes this plan will result in more, not fewer, dangerous journeys – leaving more people at risk of being trafficked. Between 2014 and 2017, Israel deported around 4000 people to Rwanda and Uganda in a similar offshoring plan. Almost all are thought to have left the country almost immediately, many attempting onward travel to Europe.

Like Australia’s, this plan is not only deeply harmful but needlessly costly, with estimates putting the cost at £1.44bn a year. We know that the Home Secretary issued a rare ministerial direction to overrule concerns of civil servants about whether the scheme would deliver value for money in order to push through the plans.

The UK already accepts proportionately fewer refugees than many other countries. The relatively small numbers of people who seek asylum in the UK do so because they have some connection here – they may have family here, connections to a diasporic community, or English language skills. Many people come from countries that are connected to the UK because of war, invasion or colonisation. To send people seeking asylum to Rwanda is cruel and immoral, and is a breach of the UN Refugee Convention which the UK signed over 70 years ago.

The Home Secretary suggests many asylum seekers are ‘illegal immigrants’ but Home Office figures tell a different story. When we look at initial decisions made in 2021, 71% of applications by asylum seekers were awarded refugee status or humanitarian protection. This means the Home Office accepted they were genuine and merited protection in the UK. Asylum seekers have to meet a very high burden of proof to achieve refugee status and many people fleeing persecution or war do not have all the necessary paperwork. Many people who are rejected at the initial stage go on to appeal. In 2021 49% of asylum appeals that progressed to a hearing were successful.

Many refugees arrive in family groups. Sending men offshore could needlessly split up families, cause distress to children and make it harder for people to rebuild their lives.

The ultimate victims will be the most vulnerable in our society, who, in attempting to rebuild their lives after experiencing persecution, will be put at risk of experiencing further human rights abuses. This will have a disproportionate impact on people from the Global South, who make up the majority of people arriving in the UK to claim asylum.

The UK has been a country of sanctuary for those fleeing war and persecution for many years and we should not now abdicate our responsibility for those vulnerable individuals.

Along with over 150 organisations from across the UK, Bristol Refugee Rights has signed an open letter to the Prime Minister and Home Secretary, urging them to scrap these plans and the Nationality and Borders Bill.


All refugees deserve safety and welcome

Our response to the Government’s approach to supporting Ukrainian and Russian refugees fleeing the current crisis

Summary

We believe all those fleeing persecution and war should receive safety and welcome wherever they are from in the world. We believe that there should be safe and legal routes for all people who need to travel to the UK for safety. We welcome the overwhelming and generous response of the British public and believe that this once again demonstrates the huge disconnect between public opinion on refugees and the government’s hard-line approach. Whilst we welcome attempts by the UK government to extend the hand of welcome during the recent Ukrainian war and in response to the situation in Afghanistan we also have grave concerns about their approach and strongly believe these schemes have not gone far enough.

Detailed statement

We believe all those fleeing persecution and war should receive safety and welcome wherever they are from in the world. We believe that there should be safe and legal routes for all people who need to travel to the UK for safety. We welcome the overwhelming and generous response of the British public and believe that this once again demonstrates the huge disconnect between public opinion on refugees and the government’s hard-line approach. Whilst we welcome attempts by the UK government to extend the hand of welcome during the recent Ukrainian war and in response to the situation in Afghanistan we also have grave concerns about their approach and strongly believe these schemes have not gone far enough.

So what are our concerns about the Government’s current approach …. Firstly, there is still insufficient information published to make a proper assessment about the scheme for Ukrainian nationals and we believe this is creating anxiety for all involved.  We also have significant concerns that the UK are attempting to pass on their own responsibilities to refugees to the general public and what impact this could have in the long term.

We share the anxiety of other refugee organisations, that the approach to hosting could create risk. Ukrainians arriving have recently left a war zone and will be in need of much support which individuals may not be well placed to provide.  Whilst we are sure the vast majority genuinely want to help, the scheme is also open to exploitation and increases risk of trafficking. We are concerned about the deep trauma that is likely to have been suffered by people arriving in this country and whether the money offered by councils will be sufficient to deal with this.

The scheme creates significant inequalities. As a member of a sector which supports refugees we are anxious about the message this sends to them – which is that they are less important than white Ukrainians.  This was further confirmed by the House of Commons on 22 March 2022 when MPs voted in favour of the Nationality and Borders Bill which seeks to criminalise the vast majority of those seeking sanctuary in the UK. We have mixed feelings – whilst we don’t want anyone else to have to deal with the asylum system, we also have major concerns about the tiered system this is creating in which black and brown refugees are less welcome than white ones. We are also concerned about the potential for inequality across local authorities in how they spend the money allocated to them by the government.

Our sector is already on its knees, we know when people arrive, they will seek us out as a network that understand their needs but no government funds will reach us and we will be expected to spread our support a little further.  We will do this because we believe in what we do but without additional funds, this will inevitably impact negatively on those we already support as the same resources must support more people. The asylum system is broken, and this is being used to support the government’s narrative about refugees and what they want to achieve from the Nationality and Borders Bill, when they should be seeking to fix it.

We are concerned that no one is mentioning Russian refugees, many are standing up and demonstrating against their government and risking their lives in doing so; no-one is mentioning people in Ukraine who are not Ukrainian nationals including those who have previously sought sanctuary there. We are concerned these schemes are only available to Ukrainian nationals and that the government confirmed on 22 March 2022 their approach that Ukrainians and others who make their way across the channel are not welcome.

We welcome that people will have right to work and access to benefits but lack of clarity about access to housing benefit and long term entitlements will make it impossible for people to move forward and instead people will live in limbo and fear. It is further evidence of the racist immigration system that this scheme has been set up based on the assumption that Ukrainian nationals will want to return to their country, whilst others who travel to this country are always assumed to want to stay forever and provide a high standard of proof that they will return even when visiting terminally ill relatives for example.

We cannot and should not ignore the Government’s hugely differential and discriminatory approach to the Ukraine refugee crisis compared to previous, ongoing, refugee crises.  Safe and legal routes should be open to all and the UK must take our fair share of people in need of safety. The Nationality and Borders Bill must be re-thought.