UK-Rwanda asylum deal puts LGBTQI+ lives at risk
Rainbow Railroad is deeply concerned about the UK government’s proposed policy to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.
Earlier this month, the UK government introduced a plan to relocate some asylum seekers who arrive in the UK to Rwanda for their claims to be processed there. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the proposal on April 14, 2022, stating that “From today … anyone entering the UK illegally as well as those who have arrived illegally since January 1 may now be relocated to Rwanda.” The government has presented the plan as a method to address human smuggling and illegal migration.
A number of critics have condemned this agreement, including the UNHCR. In a recent statement, they said, “UNHCR remains firmly opposed to arrangements that seek to transfer refugees and asylum seekers to third countries in the absence of sufficient safeguards and standards.”
Blanket refugee offshoring agreements that fail to recognize the unique vulnerabilities faced by asylum seekers based on their individual characteristics put LGBTQI+ lives at risk. These agreements also allow governments to evade their obligations under international law and erode the universal right to asylum.
Sonia Lenegan, Policy director of Rainbow Migration which provides support for LGBT+ asylum seekers, told PinkNews that the plans will further harm queer people seeking sanctuary from countries that see their existence as illegal. A similar agreement between Rwanda and Israel saw some 4,000 people deported to Rwanda and Uganda between 2014 and 2017, only for almost all to flee immediately to Europe. According to Lenegan, “When Australia offshored people to Manus Island, where it’s criminalised to be gay, [aslyum seekers] were being told at induction not to be open.”
While same-sex relations in Rwanda are legal, the country lacks basic legal protections for LGBTQI+ people in accessing accommodation, employment, and goods and services. Civil society actors have also reported concerning LGBTQI-directed human rights abuses, including the arbitrary arrests of gay and transgender people and violence by law enforcement. LGBTQI+ people continue to be at significant risk of social, cultural, and legal discrimination and abuse in the country. Rainbow Railroad has received approximately 2 dozen requests for help from LGBTQI+ people in Rwanda over the past year.
Rainbow Railroad’s Senior Policy Advisor, Nishin Nathwani, spoke to Times Radio UK this month about the implications of the UK-Rwanda deal for LGBTQI+ asylum seekers. You can listen to the interview below.