Dominic Grieve, the former Tory attorney general, told i the revelation calls into question 'how Rwanda can be described as a safe country - because it’s plainly not safe for those people'
Rishi Sunak on board a Border Agency cutter during a visit to Dover
Six people from Rwanda have been granted asylum in Britain since the Government signed its deportation deal with the country in 2022, i can reveal.
i analysis of Home Office figures shows that 33 asylum applications have been lodged in the UK on behalf of 51 people from Rwanda since the deal was first announced in April 2022. Of those, six have been granted asylum in the UK.
It includes two men from Rwanda who were offered a grant of protection by the Home Office in 2022, and a woman who received the same in 2023. A further three people from Rwanda were granted asylum in Britain under the UK’s resettlement scheme in 2022 after first trying to lodge an asylum case in Kenya.
It means more asylum seekers have arrived in Britain from Rwanda than vice versa since the agreement was signed, which still stands at zero. It comes despite the UK Government paying Kigali £240m for the partnership so far, with a further £50m payment expected later this year.
Experts told i it “fatally undermines” the UK Government’s controversial claim that Rwanda is a safe third country to send asylum seekers who arrive in Britain.
Dominic Grieve, the former Tory attorney general, said: “Clearly, if we are granting asylum to individuals from Rwanda, it does call into question how Rwanda can be described as a safe country because it’s plainly not safe for those people… Simple as that.”
Lord Alfred Dubs, a senior Labour peer and former child refugee who fled the Nazis, said: “This is very significant because it confirms what the Supreme Court said, and it makes a nonsense of a bill that deems Rwanda to be safe.
“It undermines the whole logic of the thing. It makes a nonsense of the Government’s efforts to override the Supreme Court.”
Former home secretary Priti Patel signed a deal with Rwanda in April 2022 to send the majority of asylum seekers arriving in the UK by small boat to Kigali to have their claims processed there. If successful, they would have been granted asylum in Rwanda rather than Britain, as part of the UK Government’s attempts to tackle the small boats crisis and slash immigration.
The UK’s Supreme Court declared the policy unlawful in November and said Rwanda was not a safe country to remove asylum seekers to. No deportation flights have yet taken off for the East African nation.
Ministers are now trying to change the law to override the Supreme Court’s decision and unilaterally declare Rwanda a safe third country.
MPs are set to debate the subject again this week as the Rwanda bill returns to the House Commons, with Rishi Sunak insisting the Government has “acted quickly to remedy the issues raised by the Supreme Court, proving that Rwanda is not just a safe country, but a modern, prosperous nation”.
Home Secretary James Cleverly and Rwandan foreign minister Vincent Biruta after they signed a new treaty in Kigali, Rwanda, on 5 December
However, campaigners have insisted Rwanda remains perilous for many of its own citizens, citing numerous human rights violations in the nation over recent years.
In total, 38 people from Rwanda have been granted asylum in the UK since the beginning of 2013, with six people coming since the deportation deal was signed in April 2022.
It is higher than the number of people who have been granted asylum from many other nations on the UK’s list of safe third countries in that time, including Malawi, Liberia, Mongolia, South Africa and Macedonia. Zero asylum seekers have come to the UK from the EU over the same period.
The UK has accepted hundreds of asylum seekers from some countries including Albania and Nigeria in that time.
Asylum is granted if a person has a “well-founded fear of persecution” in their country “for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group”.
The Home Office did not disclose to i the reasons for granting asylum to each individual from Rwanda since April 2022, however Government data shows that at least one decision was based on sexual orientation. For privacy reasons, the statistics do not disclose a specific figure when the number of people granted asylum based on their sexuality is between one and four.
The Home Office has only published data on asylum decisions where sexual orientation was a factor up until the end of 2022, meaning there is no relevant information on the four Rwandans that were granted asylum in the UK in 2023.
Lawyers told i refugees may also have been granted asylum in the UK for speaking out against the Rwandan government.
The Home Office published documents last week intended to support the Government’s claims that Rwanda is a safe country, but the tranche contained an admission that the African state still has “issues with its human rights record”.
Buried among the cache of papers was an acknowledgement that “while Rwanda is now a relatively peaceful country with respect for the rule of law, there are nevertheless issues with its human rights record around political opposition to the current regime, dissent and free speech”.
The 753-page document dump contained no mention that the UK is continuing to grant asylum to people from Rwanda. Mr Grieve told i the data “should have been present. It suggests that they’ve missed something.”
It comes as human rights groups have recorded a “campaign against real and perceived opponents of the government” in Rwanda, including arbitrary detention and ill-treatment in prisons.
According to Amnesty International, bloggers and journalists critical of the Rwandan government continue to be “harassed, intimidated, persecuted and unlawfully detained by the authorities”.
Outside of the country’s borders, Rwandan refugees reported being threatened and harassed by Rwandan government agents or their proxies, with Human Rights Watch receiving information about several cases of Rwandan refugees being killed, “disappeared”, or arrested in suspicious circumstances, including in Mozambique and Uganda.
Rwandans who have been granted asylum in the UK also told i they continue to be threatened and harassed from Britain for speaking out against the regime.
Sile Reynolds, head of asylum advocacy at Freedom From Torture, said: “The implications of Rwandans getting refugee status in the UK is very clear: it confirms that Rwanda is not a safe country. You can’t be a refugee producing country and a safe third country where you can send refugees.”
Professor Thom Brooks, immigration expert at the University of Durham and a Labour Party supporter, said the revelation “blows apart” ministers’ claims underpinning the Rwanda deal.
“I think it’s incredible – absolutely incredible – to be trying to claim a country is safe, while actively and regularly accepting its citizens for asylum here, with dozens more waiting on their applications,” he told i.
“The case of the UK continually accepting Rwandans for asylum here fatally undermines any claim Rwanda is safe for all when acknowledged it’s not safe for all Rwandans.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Rwanda is a safe country that cares deeply about supporting refugees. It hosts more than 135,000 asylum seekers and stands ready to relocate people and help them rebuild their lives.
“All asylum applications are carefully considered on their individual merits and the granting of asylum does not mean that an individual’s home country is unsafe more broadly.”