UK Passes Rwanda Law, Putting Asylum Seekers at Greater Risk of Torture

This week, the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill passed into UK law. The Bill will see some asylum seekers arriving in the UK sent to Rwanda to have their claims processed, and aims to severely restrict legal challenges, even from survivors of torture. The scheme was ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court last year, on the basis that Rwanda is not ‘safe’. 

As the Bill proceeded through Parliament, REDRESS briefed parliamentarians on consistent reports of torture being used in Rwanda by both the military and the police. We urged the UK Government to adhere to its international legal obligations including the absolute prohibition on torture. 

Alison Thewliss, Scottish National Party MP for Glasgow Central, said: 

“Redress has provided a briefing about torture in Rwanda, and it highlights that there have been cases of it. Human Rights Watch’s reports on Rwanda, published in 2023, 2022 and 2021, all include examples of torture.” 

REDRESS worked with Baroness Lister of Burtersett to submit an amendment to the Bill which would bar the UK government from sending survivors of torture to Rwanda or deeming Rwanda safe if torture had taken place there in the last two years. Unfortunately, the amendment was not accepted. 

Baroness Lister of Burtersett said: 

“[The] prohibition on torture is absolute and non-derogable, meaning that it cannot be suspended or restricted in any circumstances. This prohibition includes a ban on sending someone to a country where they are at risk of torture or where there is a possibility that they will be sent on to another third country where such a risk may exist.” 

Following news that the law had passed its final stages in Parliament and would soon become law, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights condemned the scheme, saying that it “raises major issues about the human rights of asylum seekers and the rule of law more generally.” 

The new law asserts that Rwanda is a safe country, which UK courts cannot overturn even in the face of evidence to the contrary. This sends out a dangerous signal that the UK is willing to circumvent its obligations under international law and disregard credible and recent reports of torture in Rwanda to pursue its policy objectives. 

Whilst the UK Home Office does not keep data or statistics on the number of asylum claims involving allegations of torture, estimates suggest between 27% and 44% of refugees and asylum seekers in countries like the UK will have experienced torture. This would indicate that the UK is home to between 60,000 and 98,000 survivors of torture in the refugee population alone. The new law will put asylum seekers, already a vulnerable population, at further risk of harm and re-traumatisation. 

The UK must show that it takes torture seriously. We deplore any legislation which risks the UK breaching its international human rights law obligations – still more when those who have already survived torture are at particular risk of further harm. We urge the current or future government to address the risk of torture posed by the Rwanda legislation by repealing the law and reaffirming its commitment to the absolute prohibition on torture. 

Photo: alisdare1: CC BY-SA 2.0.