Home » People seeking safety deserve compassion. But this Rwanda Bill is cruel and inhumane

People seeking safety deserve compassion. But this Rwanda Bill is cruel and inhumane

by Marko Florentino
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The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

We, side by side with caring people up and down this country, want the government to end this cruel anti-refugee agenda and rebuild an asylum system that is welcoming and compassionate, Sepideh Sahar and Angela McLeary write.

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We know what it’s like to have to leave your home against your will and at short notice. To travel to a new country and try to rebuild your life. 

And we know that the UK Government’s cruel “cash for humans” deal with Rwanda won’t stop people from taking dangerous journeys to seek safety in the UK.

We’re part of a group of people with lived experience of the UK immigration and asylum system — some of us are torture survivors, some of us refugees, and some of us are stuck in the backlog still trying to find safety. 

But we all had a life, family, role, and respect in our homelands, and we can tell you that people who are seeking safety deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

The ugly reality of the government’s plan is that getting planes off to Rwanda means sending people thousands of miles away — people who’ve fled the worst horrors — to a country that’s not safe for them. 

And before any planes have even taken off, this policy has inflicted deep psychological harm on our community — knowing that at any moment, people like us could be sent to a country that has a recognised record of serious human rights abuses.

Do you know what feeling safe means?

There’s a very real difference between escaping persecution and being safe. Feeling safe is a prerequisite to being safe as it allows you to rebuild your life, move on from traumatic experiences, and recover. But this policy is making everything so much harder.

And it’s not just the fear of being sent to Rwanda that can have such a devastating impact, but the hanging in limbo that comes with it. 

People who’ve been served “notices of intent” to remove them to Rwanda have no idea what’s going to happen to them, or when. This creates a sense of uncertainty that will jeopardise people’s well-being and will cause irreversible harm. 

We know how hard it is to live like this. It’s almost impossible to recover or rebuild your life.

We have watched the progression of the UK Government’s deal with Rwanda in horror. 

This policy punishes people who had little choice but to risk their lives to reach safety in the UK. 

Instead of sending refugees on a one-way ticket to Rwanda — or any other so-called “safe” country — the UK should be leading the way when it comes to refugee protection.

How can we put people at serious risk?

The UK has a rich history of sheltering those in need. But this policy makes a mockery of the 1951 Refugee Convention — created in the aftermath of World War II. A convention that the UK helped to draft, and that has saved many lives ever since.

By refusing to comply with international obligations that we are signatory to, we’re making strong protections weak. 

And we’re starting a dangerous trend of not taking responsibility for people who desperately need our protection, and who just want to live a safe life. 

It’s really worrying to see the UK and other countries move away from protection-focused policies to deterrence and externalisation.

Members of the House of Lords have continued to defend refugee rights by voting through vital amendments to this bill, including insisting that it must comply with international and domestic human rights law that the UK is internationally recognised for.

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For those of us who’ve fled dangerous countries, it’s this history of human rights protection that made us feel hopeful when we first arrived here.

Since the very beginning, we’ve known that the Rwanda policy would put people like us at serious risk. 

And only a few months ago, the Supreme Court unanimously concluded that Rwanda was not a safe country because of the risk that refugees relocated there from the UK might be sent on to face persecution or human rights abuses in another country. 

Since then, the UNHCR has repeatedly warned that Rwanda doesn’t have the services or infrastructure in place to appropriately handle asylum claims.

As much as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak might wish it so, the recent credible reports of torture and ill-treatment in Rwanda and what it tells us about Rwanda’s compliance with international human rights law, can’t simply be forgotten. 

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The simple fact that Rwandans are getting refugee status confirms that Rwanda is not a safe country.

We need a welcoming and compassionate system, not an immoral one

It’s immoral that people who are just seeking safety could be at risk of further harm if sent to Rwanda. 

People need to understand that almost everyone arriving on our shores seeking sanctuary will be at risk of being sent there. 

Even the most vulnerable people are considered suitable to be sent to Rwanda – survivors of torture, victims of trafficking and modern-day slavery, and families with children. 

And those who do not have their protection claims granted in Rwanda will still not be allowed to return to the UK.

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The prime minister may feel confident enough to bet money on a plane taking off to Rwanda before the next election, but we’re not going to stop fighting this bill. 

Refugees like us have been at the forefront of campaigns urging politicians to change direction and champion a fairer and more compassionate alternative.

We’re calling on all MPs to draw a line in the sand and put this inhumane and costly deal behind them. Instead of making up policies that defy our legal and moral duties, the government must instead focus on restoring access to protection in the UK and reinforcing the global refugee protection system in compliance with international law.

We, side by side with caring people up and down this country, want the government to end this cruel anti-refugee agenda and rebuild an asylum system that is welcoming and compassionate. 

We need to guarantee people fleeing horrors like war, torture, and persecution a fair hearing and the sanctuary they need to heal.  

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Sepideh Sahar and Angela McLeary are members of One Strong Voice, the UK’s first coalition of refugee and migrant campaigners.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at view@euronews.com to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.



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