Rwandan LGBTIQs warn it’s dangerous to send gay asylum seekers here
Gerald* and his boyfriend fled Rwanda in February this year to escape persecution from their families and church. “They beat us, starved us and refused to give us shelter,” he told openDemocracy from neighboring Uganda.
His testimony comes after the British government announced new proposals to resettle asylum seekers in Rwanda.
The £120million scheme, paid for by the British taxpayer, will mainly target single men arriving on boats or trucks. Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the plan “humane and compassionate” and said it would end the activities of “vile smugglers”.
But rights groups say it will be particularly harmful to LGBTIQ people given Rwanda’s record on LGBTIQ rights.
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“It’s appalling for everyone. But for LGBTIQ people in particular, it’s significantly worse,” says Sonia Lenegan, legal and policy director of the NGO Rainbow Migration.
“The government must abandon this problematic agreement. There will be legal challenges over this.
Rwanda dangerous for LGBTIQ people
The new deal means that LGBTQI people who faced grave danger in their home country and sought protection in the UK will be sent back to a country where it is not safe to be openly LGBTIQ, says Lenegan.
“If you are an LGBTIQ person who was sent from the UK to Rwanda, you are now in a situation where it is not really safe to reveal who you are. However, at the same time, you must apply for asylum on the grounds that you are gay.
Lenegan says that at present it is unclear how Rwanda handles LGBTIQ asylum claims, or if it is even possible to apply on such grounds.
A Human Rights Watch report last year found that Rwandan authorities had arbitrarily arrested and detained more than a dozen gay and transgender people, sex workers, street children, and others within months preceding a major international conference scheduled for June 2021.
The same report collected testimonies from LGBTIQ people in Rwanda who alleged that security officials accused them of “not representing Rwandan values”.
Rwanda has no laws against same-sex and gender-nonconforming behavior. But that doesn’t mean it’s a safe place for people who identify as LGBTIQ, says a community organizer in the country’s capital, Kigali.
“It does not criminalize homosexuality but neither does it officially recognize it,” he told openDemocracy on condition of anonymity. “We don’t have laws protecting LGBTIQ people. There is stigma in the family, workplace and schools.
Some LGBTIQ people in Rwanda have claimed asylum in the UK because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, although the numbers are low.
“Dear and Cruel”
Lenegan says a previous similar agreement between Israel and Rwanda saw thousands of asylum seekers transferred to Rwanda, but almost all immediately left the country to continue the dangerous journey back to Europe.
Denmark also passed a similar law last year, aimed at processing asylum claims outside the European Union, but it is not clear whether it has ever been used. The African Union condemned the plan at the time, saying it circumvented accountability.
Despite this, the UK government has sought to introduce similar “relocation” provisions into the Nationality and Borders Bill, which will return to the UK House of Commons next week. Advocates have warned that the process could make it even harder for someone to “prove” their sexual orientation or gender identity.
This offshoring model originated in Australia. “The very cost is shocking,” Lenegan said. “Australia has spent billions and billions on this. It makes no sense to follow Australia when we are geographically very different.
“Thinking that this process will deter people is highly unlikely. Given how unclear all of this is, I doubt most migrants really understand that there is a really significant risk of them being sent to Rwanda.
“You are putting people in a very dangerous situation and spending a lot of money on it when there is no clear evidence that it will achieve the government’s apparent goal of deterrence.
“It would be cheaper to invest in the Home Office instead and get them to make effective decisions. The government has opted for the expensive and cruel option rather than the cheapest and most effective option.
The UK Home Office told openDemocracy that it does not believe the new scheme will put LGBTIQ people at risk. “Anyone being considered for relocation will be screened and will have access to legal advice,” a spokesperson said. “Decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis and no one will be moved if it is unsafe or inappropriate to take them away.”
He added: “We are not commenting on the exact criteria and additional criteria of the grounds on which people might be removed.
“It’s not just about gay people – it extends to the question about children, families, all the different health needs of individuals that we don’t provide further comment on that – just for the general reason of not potentially warning smuggling gangs to target vulnerable people.
Rwandan government spokeswoman Yolande Makolo said that in Rwanda, “all people, including those who identify as LGBTIQ, can feel safe” because “a central tenet of Rwanda’s reconstruction has was to ensure that each person is treated, first and foremost, as a human being”. being” and the country was “highly ranked for gender equality and inclusion of historically marginalized groups”.