Disputed concerns of former UK High Commissioner on sending asylum seekers to Rwanda

On 21 juillet 2022 at 09:50

The United Kingdom (UK) has released documents indicating numerous concerns raised over the country’s Migration and Economic Development Partnership with Rwanda to send migrants and asylum seekers staying in UK illegally.

The documents include one written by the former British High Commissioner to Rwanda, Jo Lomas expressing concerns that the migrants might be recruited to conduct armed operations in neighbouring countries once they arrive in Rwanda.

The documents were submitted to court by lawyers from charities overseeing interests of individual asylum seekers from countries including Iraq, Sudan, Syria and Albania.

Their first flight to Rwanda was expected on 14th June 2022 but was cancelled at last minute after an intervention from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).

The documents presented to the UK High Court feature concerns of different people about the partnership to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.

An extract from the documents indicate that on 10th February 2021, the former UK High Commissioner to Rwanda, Jo Lomas said ‘the UK should not do a deal with Rwanda because the African country had been accused of recruiting refugees to conduct armed operations in neighbouring countries’.

Eight days after the disclosures, more extracts read, Rwanda was identified as one of 14 countries assessed as presenting substantial issues in relation to asylum systems and human rights and received an amber/red rating from the government owing to significant human rights concerns.

Among others ; a Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office memo dated 20th May 2021, urged the Prime Minister not to get involved with the Rwanda deal ‘owing to significant human rights concerns’.

Another document submitted to the court is a detailed internal memo that appears to be dated 12th April 2022, the day before a memorandum of understanding was signed between UK and Rwanda. The latter stated that the “fraud risk is very high” in the deal because UK was paying so much money upfront to Rwanda.

A document from the day the memorandum was signed stated that the first group of asylum seekers due to be flown to Rwanda could “test” Rwanda’s refugee determination processes.

When the UK government conducted an independent assessment of Rwanda’s human rights record, extracts from the documents indicate, the Home Office showed it to Rwanda to comment on the final draft and allowed officials to suggest amendments.

The names of officials who made the comments were not mentioned in the documents. This created confusion among some people who attributed the concerns of UK High Commissioner to Rwanda to the current envoy, Omar Daair representing his country to Rwanda.

Omar Daair has via Twitter handle provided clarifications that he had not yet been appointed to Rwanda by the time concerns attributed to the UK High Commissioner were raised.

“There have been media stories regarding our partnership with Rwanda and documents written in February and May 2021. I became High Commissioner in July 2021. Regardless, it is normal for UK officials to brief Ministers during the course of policy development,” he tweeted.

“Ministers have repeatedly stated that Rwanda is a fundamentally safe and secure country with a track record of supporting asylum seekers. The UK government remains committed to delivering this policy to break the business model of criminal gangs and save lives,” added Omar.

It is expected that the next move will be informed by court’s decision.

The first deportation of migrants from the UK to Rwanda was cancelled at last minute.