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UN expert urges UK to shelve Rwanda asylum plan

June 17, 2022 at 8:29 pm

Rwanda deportation flight EC-LZO Boeing 767 at Boscombe Down Air Base, on June 14, [Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images]

A UN human rights expert, on Friday, urged the United Kingdom to halt plans to transfer asylum seekers to Rwanda, expressing grave concern that the arrangement violates international law, Anadolu News Agency reports.

In a statement, Siobhan Mullally, the UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, said the practices proposed by the UK “risk causing irreparable harm to people seeking international protection”.

“There are serious risks that the international law principle of non-refoulement will be breached by forcibly transferring asylum seekers to Rwanda,” said Mullally.

“People seeking international protection, fleeing conflict and persecution, have the right to seek and enjoy asylum – a fundamental tenet of international human rights and refugee law,” she said.

She welcomed the European Court of Human Rights’ decision to ground a flight that was due to transfer a small group of asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda earlier this week.

“Transferring asylum seekers to third countries does nothing to prevent or combat human trafficking; in fact, it is likely to push desperate people into riskier and more dangerous situations,” Mullally said.

“Rather than reducing trafficking in persons, it is likely to increase risks of exploitation.”

Risks of exploitation

The UN Special Rapporteur “expressed concern that the arrangement fails to safeguard the rights of asylum seekers who are victims of trafficking and seeking protection in the United Kingdom”, read the statement.

“There are inadequate safeguards to ensure that victims of trafficking or persons at risk of trafficking are identified, given assistance and ensured effective access to international protection,” Mullally said.

She also pointed out that there are “insufficient guarantees against risks of trafficking or re-trafficking for those who may be denied asylum, or arbitrarily removed to another state from Rwanda.”

Under the arrangement, UK authorities will conduct an initial screening before deciding whether an individual may be transferred to Rwanda.

Mullally echoed concerns by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees about difficulties in disclosing traumatic experiences – such as trafficking – in screening interviews for asylum seekers, the statement said.

READ: UK serves refugees with official notice they are ‘under consideration’ for deportation to Rwanda

It said the Special Rapporteur has repeatedly raised concerns with the international community “about the increasing tendency to place migration within a criminal law enforcement paradigm.”

“Restrictive migration-related measures are presented as part of efforts to combat organised crime, including trafficking in persons, regardless of how the measures may affect the human rights of migrants and trafficked persons,” she said.

Mullally called on countries to “expand pathways for safe, orderly and regular migration without discrimination” to combat trafficking in persons.

She identified resettlement programs, family reunification measures and the provision of humanitarian visas as “more effective ways to prevent the trafficking of those fleeing persecution and conflict.”