Home News Asylum seekers already in UK say Rwandan laws spark new anxiety

Asylum seekers already in UK say Rwandan laws spark new anxiety


On a cold spring day last month, Mohsen, a 36-year-old from Iran, woke up before dawn and was rushed by smugglers into a rubber dinghy off the coast of France.

The water was calm and the sky was clear, he said, but he knew the journey he was about to embark on carried risks. Since 2018, at least 72 people People have drowned while trying to cross the English Channel, according to the International Organization for Migration.

He said he fled Iran because police came to his home last year and threatened to arrest him after he took part in anti-government protests.

Mawson, who asked to be identified only by his first name because he feared publication of his full name might affect his asylum application, said he was willing to risk drowning for the chance of a new life in Britain.He boarded the ship despite being aware of the British government’s plans to deport some asylum seekers to the Central African country of Rwanda, which was first announced 2022.

“What can I do? What other options do I have?” he said. “Honestly, I’m worried, especially after Monday. The rules seem to be changing every day.”

On Monday, the British Conservative government Passed A controversial law aims to clear the way for deportation flights to Rwanda to begin this summer, despite an earlier ruling by the UK Supreme Court that the country Not safe for refugees. The House of Lords (the upper house of parliament) has been trying for months without success. amend billwith the former Conservative chancellor explain Ignoring the country’s highest court sets an “extremely dangerous precedent.”

Under the scheme, some asylum seekers will have their applications heard in Rwanda and, even if approved, will be resettled there and not allowed to live in the UK. Anyone arriving in the UK after 1 January 2022 and traveling by dangerous means such as small boats or clandestine trucks, or arriving via a “safe third country”, may be sent to Rwanda, According to government guidance.Laws and other recent government policies mean that now There are few ways to apply for asylum In the UK, there are some exceptions, including Ukrainians and Hong Kongers.

Charities and rights groups supporting asylum seekers say many are concerned about conditions in Rwanda Troubled human rights record The fear of being sent away fueled the anxiety of living in limbo for months or even years.

Habibullah, 28, fled Afghanistan by boat last year when the Taliban took control and killed his father and brother. He asked that only his first name be used for safety reasons.

“If I went to Afghanistan, I would die,” he said, but added that the prospect of going to Rwanda was almost as daunting. He said he had been seeing a doctor for depression since receiving a letter last June from the British government notifying him of possible deportation.

He said his route from Afghanistan passed through Iran, Bulgaria, Austria, Switzerland and France, and sometimes he ran out of food. He said that after all the hardships he had gone through, he could not bear to be sent away.

“I came to Britain for Britain,” he said, sitting in the dimly lit cafeteria of a hotel in south London where he and other asylum seekers are staying.

A hotel guest says she survived rape and torture in Botswana. Another fled the Syrian civil war. They all said they feared they would end up in Rwanda.

Marvin George Bamwite, 27, said he left his home in Uganda, which borders Rwanda, Tough anti-gay laws, After his family found out he was gay and condemned him.

“Rwanda may be safe for others, but not for everyone,” he said. “Not gay. Rwanda is not safe for us.”

Rwanda has undergone tremendous changes since its founding The devastating 1994 genocide. It became prosperous, but the government was also accused of repression and human rights abuses.While homosexuality is not illegal in Rwanda, it is often stigmatized, Human Rights Watch has documented Arbitrary detention among LGBTQ people.

The UK’s Supreme Court declared the Rwanda policy illegal in November. The investigation found there were good reasons to believe asylum seekers sent there would face a real risk of abuse as a result of “refoulement”, meaning refugees could be returned to their country of origin and face potential violence or abuse, in violation of English law and international law.

The new law aims to overturn the court’s ruling by declaring Rwanda safe and instructing judges and immigration officials to treat Rwanda as such, a tactic described by House of Lords lawyers as “Legal novel.On Monday, Chancellor Rishi Sunak said the government would begin detaining asylum seekers immediately, with the first deportation flights scheduled for late June or early July. However, legal challenges are expected, which could prevent flights from taking off.

The government’s policy is based on the theory that asylum seekers will reconsider traveling to the UK if they believe they will end up in Rwanda. But that remains to be seen. Ships have been arriving at least in the months since Sunak said he would press ahead with the plan.

A few hours after the policy was adopted, five people, including one childDied while trying to cross from France in an overcrowded rubber dinghy. Mr Sunak said the deaths highlighted the need for a plan for Rwanda.

“This is the tragedy that happens when they push people out to sea,” he told reporters on Tuesday, referring to people smugglers. “That’s why, out of compassion more than anything else, we have to really break this business model and end this injustice for people who come into our country illegally.”

Several asylum seekers interviewed by The New York Times said they would still try to come despite Rwanda’s policies, but Benvitt said he thought it could act as a deterrent to at least some potential African asylum seekers.

“No one is coming to the UK to be taken back to Africa,” he said.

According to the latest data from the British government, Until December 2023Some 95,252 asylum cases are awaiting a preliminary decision.

Some, including Mohammed Al Muhandes, 53, have been lingering in hotels, barred from working and dependent on government support.

Muhandes fled Yemen after receiving threats to his life during the country’s civil war, applied for asylum in the UK in July 2023, and stayed in a hotel in Leeds, northern England, for several months. “This tunnel is dark and there is no light at the end,” he said. “You’re just waiting for someone to come and let the light shine in.”

With it unclear who the Rwanda program might apply to, a climate of fear pervades hotels, share houses and other places where many asylum seekers await answers to their cases.

“It feels really bad, to be honest,” said Reza Khademi, 24, who lives in Bradford, northern England. Khademi arrived from Iran in August 2023 when Iranian police came to threaten him with arrest because of his participation in anti-government protests and critical comments on social media.

“I don’t want to leave. I have a job, a family, a house, a car,” Mr. Hademi said. “Here, I’m starting from scratch.”

He said his parents called him in tears when they heard about the latest legislation. Because of the way he traveled – by air and without stopping in a “safe” third country – the law may not apply to him. When asked by The Times whether the rule applied to him, the Home Office said it did not comment on individual cases.

Still, the uncertainty was stressful, said Hademi, whose dark brown hair suddenly had streaks of gray.

“Every day, you read these bad things about Rwanda and how they want to send us there, and I feel very nervous,” he said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen to you.”

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