Rwanda policy ‘inflicting premeditated harm’ on asylum seekers

Detainees set for deportation show signs of torture, trafficking and PTSD, doctors' charity says
Home secretary Priti Patel Patel addresses a news conference in Kigali, Rwanda, earlier this year. Photo: Cyril Ndegeya/Xinhua/Alamy Live News

By Jim Dunton

02 Sep 2022

The Home Office’s controversial plans to send asylum seekers to Rwanda for their claims to be processed has torture and trafficking victims among its 51-strong initial cohort of deportees, according to doctors’ charity Medical Justice.

The organisation says some of those in line to be flown out on one-way tickets to the East African nation under the policy – which is the subject of a judicial review hearing at the High Court next week – are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and suicidal thoughts. 

Medical Justice is calling on the Home Office to scrap the policy, announced by home secretary Priti Patel in April, on the grounds that it is making asylum seekers’ existing mental-health conditions worse and effectively inflicting “premeditated” harm.

Doctors working for the charity have so far conducted clinical assessments on 17 men, women and young people who are currently in immigration detention and facing removal to Rwanda.

According to a report from the group, 14 had “evidence of torture histories” and six had “indicators of trafficking”. The group said 15 had a diagnosis or symptoms of PTSD and another was likely to have a psychotic disorder and lacked the capacity to instruct a solicitor.

The government’s first charter flight to take asylum seekers to Rwanda for processing was effectively halted in June. But Medical Justice said the health and wellbeing of the potential deportees – who are from Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria, Egypt, Eritrea, Vietnam and Albania – has already been severely impacted.

Clinical advisor Rachel Bingham said the threat of removal to Rwanda had prompted intense fear, anxiety about the future, profound loss of hope, and traumatic reminders of past experiences among the cohort.

“These experiences would be harmful in general, but are made even more acute by their being experienced within immigration detention and by a population with a high rate of vulnerability,” she said.

“The policy knowingly places people in an extremely damaging situation and should be considered exceptionally harmful.

“As a doctor, what shocks me most is the total disregard for the need to assess the risks of subjecting individual people to this policy. “

Charity director Emma Ginn called on the government to scrap the Rwanda policy and release those under threat of removal.

“To not do so, given the medical evidence, means the harm the government is inflicting is premeditated,” she said.

A Home Office spokesperson disputed the suggestion that detainees would be sent to Rwanda if they were unfit to be relocated.

"We have been clear from the start that no one will be relocated if it is unsafe or inappropriate for them," they said.

"Our thorough assessment of Rwanda has found that it is a fundamentally safe and secure country, with a track record of supporting asylum seekers."

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