Doctors slam British government's Rwanda asylum policy

AP Copyright AP Photo
Copyright AP Photo
By Andrew Naughtie
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The latest intervention comes ahead of a legal appeal set to begin this week, to try and force the government to not roll back promises made to people seeking asylum.


A group of doctors has slammed the UK government's insistence on forcibly sending asylum seekers to Rwanda, saying they had "grave concerns" about the human rights record in the central African nation. 

Hundreds of British medical personnel signed their names on the open letter to Rishi Sunak, urging him to abandon the policy of 'outsoursing' Britain's asylum processing to Rwanda. 

The medics point out that similar policies implemented in other countries "have led to wide-scale abuse and been found to cause catastrophic mental and physical harm”.

The intervention comes a day before a British court is set to hear arguments from a charity, appealing a previous UK court ruling on this issue which found the government had acted legally to try and deport asylum seekers last summer.

Critis say the government actions, and ongoing legal dramas, don't help the people involved who have claimed asylum.  

“It is therefore unsurprising that the prospect of removal to Rwanda, which is modelled closely on the failed Australian system, has exacerbated the mental health conditions (including post-traumatic stress disorder and depression) of the men, women and age disputed children who have been threatened with expulsion, triggering fear, confusion and uncertainty about their safety," the doctors said. 

According to the open letter, the “inhumane” process proposed under the plan “is a matter of significant concern for the medical community”.

“We find this policy, with its inevitable toll on the mental and physical health of those subject to it, unconscionable and abhorrent,” the letter reads. 

“We urge you to abandon it in its entirety and ensure that any further reform of the asylum system leads to a strengthening, rather than a weakening, of protection and dignity for those seeking sanctuary in the UK.’

While the Sunak government is promising to press ahead with the Rwanda policy, which so far has seen not a single person deported, it is under heavy domestic and international pressure to rethink or abolish it, with critics pointing to Rwanda’s own human rights record.

Last summer, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) blocked what would have been the first flight taking asylum seekers to Rwanda from the UK, while EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson told Politico last month that she had warned UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman the policy violated international law.

The UK government claims its memorandum of understanding with Rwanda is designed to make sure asylum seekers arriving in Britain – many of them via dangerous small boats sent across the English Channel – are sent to a “safe” third country rather than back to countries marked by war or widespread human rights abuses.

The UK is not the only European country that has looked to Rwanda as a receiving country for deportees. Denmark signed a deal with the Rwandan government in 2021 that would potentially see asylum seekers transferred there while their claims were processed. However, no formal policy has been put in place yet.

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