In this blog, Naeema Ahmed (MBA), Network Manager for the UK BME Anti-Slavery Network (BASNET), discusses why BASNET opposes the UK Governments proposal to offshore refugees and asylum seekers to Rwanda.

The conversation around the Government’s Rwanda Offshore proposal keeps exposing the numerous gaps and challenges faced by the UK asylum seeking and determination system. For years, organisations working within the modern slavery sector have been raising awareness backed with significant data around the toxic narratives that continuously dehumanizes and criminalises asylum seekers and refugees. The toxicity and hostile environment is very apparent in the Nationality and Borders bill where Asylum seekers will receive a lesser form of protection, including temporary status, no access to financial support, and limited rights to family reunion. Recognised refugees will live in constant fear of return to persecution or death at any point.

There is no doubt about the Government’s hostile environment towards asylum seekers and refugees, some of whom are victims and survivors of human trafficking and/or modern slavery. Its policies are deliberately set out to frustrate vulnerable individuals who only sought to seek refuge to better their lives or who are even in this country through no fault of theirs. In 2012, the then Prime Minister Theresa May categorically stated that ‘’The aim is to create here in Britain a hostile environment for illegal migration’’. We know through our work, that of our members and available research that many people who are here illegally have been trafficked for various forms of exploitations and slavery.

The UK asylum determination system is shrouded in a culture of disbelief, so sometimes even when victims of modern slavery share their lived experiences with the aim of being rescued and helping find justice for their ordeal, the Government still refuses them asylum. These actions only end up compounding the vulnerabilities of such victims.

The government will make us believe ‘its long history of providing protection to those who need it’ and yet offshore its responsibility towards asylum seekers and human trafficking survivors to a poor developing country. In fact, instead of the Government doing better in its commitment to human rights and asylum sanctuary with a human centered sustainable plan, it keeps coming up with policies and strategies that keeps setting us backward as a country and a sector in particular. On a daily basis, we learn of new trends, routes and exploitation maneuvers of trafficking perpetrators. Sending refugees and asylum seekers especially victims of modern slavery to Rwanda-a country criticized for its human rights will only create routes and increase the number of re-exploitation of vulnerable victims.

It is important to dissect the role of Rwanda in all of this. In a 2019 report on ‘Understanding Human Trafficking in Rwanda: Causes, Effects, and Impact’ which was commissioned by the International Organisation on Migration Rwanda, The following gaps amidst recommendations were identified:

  1. Limited knowledge about human trafficking across the board, including among local leaders, teachers, youth, border community, refugees, implementing partners in refugee camps, and the community in general.
  2. Across law enforcement agencies through the levels of identification, investigation, prosecution, and adjudication, there is limited capacity to properly address the crime of human trafficking.
  3. Victim reintegration and assistance are inadequate. For instance, there is no specific protocol that guides victim reintegration and assistance upon their arrival from destination countries. In addition, Isange One Stop centres offer mostly short-term rehabilitation (a maximum of seven days), which in most cases is not enough to discuss issues related to infrastructure such as the privacy of victims and building capacity’

In 2021, the US Trafficking In Person Report clearly stated  that ‘The government lacked a victim-witness support program and did not maintain shelters for male victims. The government detained thousands of potential victims in district transit canters without conducting adequate screening or referring identified victims to proper care and assistance’. It is therefore questionable that the UK government will entrust the lives of vulnerable people who are fleeing persecutions or exploitations to such a system.

Crucially, the impact this proposal will have on race equality, diversity and inclusion within the modern slavery sector will be immeasurable. The War in Ukraine has only shown us to a greater extent that not all refugees are equal, that there is more valued placed on those seeking refuge and asylum in this country based on the colour of their skin or their race. Hence, the government, per its actions has demonstrated without doubt that some refugees are more human and worthy of support than others. That the government will go through every length to create safe passages for entry for them. The questions we therefore shudder to ask are:

1.Which refugee nationals and asylum seekers will be sent to Rwanda? Would these include vulnerable children, victims of trafficking/slavery claiming asylum?

2.Why can’t the government make deliberate efforts to create safe passages for asylum seekers fleeing persecution or any form of exploitation.

3.Considering the terrible human rights record of Rwanda, what guarantees are there that refugees and asylum seekers sent to this country would be fairly treated?

We believe the offshoring of the Government’s responsibility is not only reckless and unduly expensive, it will also serve as a horrible precedence for racist and unjust actions towards vulnerable individuals with clear disregard for human rights. As a network, BASNET strongly opposes the government’s plan to offshore asylum seekers to Rwanda. We reiterate the concerns of other organisations as echoed here that this inhumane action will risk the security, safeguarding, well-being and the ability for victims to report without fear of being transported miles away.

We believe that calling on the Government to rescind its decision does not make us xenophobic as implied by the Home Secretary. Rather it serves as a caution to the calamity this plan will cause. The Government must therefore reverse this callous plan, invest in the UK asylum system to enable it do better by refugees, asylum seekers and victims of modern slavery for the sake of humanity.

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