Rwanda is fundamentally a safe and secure country with low crime rates. Homicide rates, for example, are well below the average rate across Africa and are lower than the European average. Rwanda respects the rule of law, and has a strong record on economic and social rights and the rights of migrants. However, we are concerned about the restrictions on political opposition, civil society and media freedom, and we regularly express those concerns to members of the Rwandan Government.
Disturbing reports have emerged in Rwanda of adults who were orphaned during the Rwandan genocide being told to leave the hostel they have lived in for years to make room for UK asylum seekers. How does the Minister square that information with her Government’s commitment to being a force for good in the world?
Rwanda has a strong history of welcoming refugees and protecting their rights. Since 2019, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the African Union have been sending refugees and asylum seekers to Rwanda. Last month, the UN sent 119 asylum seekers to Rwanda, which it described as a very safe country. I will take the hon. Gentleman’s points on board.
According to the Foreign Office’s own website, homosexuality remains frowned upon by many in Rwanda, and LGBTQ+ people can experience discrimination and abuse, including from local authorities. LGBTQ+ Rwandan refugees have been forced to flee the hostility and dangers they have faced there. What account will the UK Government take of that before deporting vulnerable LGBTQ+ refugees there?
I thank the hon. Member for her interest. She will know that, unlike most countries in the region, Rwanda has no laws against homosexuality, and its constitution also prohibits all forms of discrimination based on identity. When it comes to women’s equality, Rwanda is one of the top countries in the world. We know that LGBT individuals may still encounter discrimination, and we continue to work with the Rwandan Government and the LGBT community in Rwanda to improve their situation.
Exactly. Last year, Human Rights Watch published a report with evidence that Rwandan authorities had arbitrarily detained more than a dozen gay and transgender people—in some cases, violently assaulting them—ahead of a June 2021 conference, accusing them of “not representing Rwandan values”. Is the Minister seriously saying that LGBTQ+ refugees are safe in Rwanda?
Let me be clear: our agreement with the Rwandans ensures that people will be kept safe, but let me also say this about Rwanda. It is one of the top countries in the world for economic growth and for women’s equality. Its health service has ensured that a greater proportion of its people are vaccinated against covid than people in any other African country bar one. It outperforms the UK when it comes to organised crime. Rwanda has entered into this partnership willingly because its Government, like us, do not want to see people drowning in the channel.
We hear a lot about human rights on this issue, but does my hon. Friend agree that by far the worst thing for human rights has been the rise of organised criminal gangs trafficking people by encouraging them to make perilous journeys across the channel? Does she also agree that our plan is the only plan on the table to break that business model?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. We have been honest about the fact that this is an innovative approach; as with all new approaches, there is, of course, uncertainty, but doing nothing is not an option when people are putting their lives at risk by crossing the channel in small boats. We need new innovative solutions and partnerships to put an end to this deadly trade and break the model of the people traffickers.
Will the Minister join me in welcoming the Government’s landmark Rwanda deal, which is already acting as a strong deterrent to those who might cross the channel dangerously? Zero boats have been detected over the last few days.
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. I point out that our £120 million investment will help the Rwandans to surmount further barriers to growth and create jobs and opportunities, both for the people of Rwanda and for any asylum seekers who want to settle there.
We now come to shadow Minister Lyn Brown.
This policy will do nothing to stop the boats. The Minister has spent the last few days talking up the human rights record of the Rwandan Government, yet the previous Minister expressed concerns around “civil and political rights” in Rwanda. In 2018, 12 refugees were shot dead during protests about cuts to food allowances, and last month, the current Minister said that the UK was raising the latest of many cases of Government critics ending up dead. Is that hypocrisy the reason why the Daily Mirror, The Guardian and the Financial Times were blocked from joining the Home Secretary’s trip to Rwanda—because they would call it out?
I have been very consistent. We do have concerns about restrictions on political freedom, civil society and media freedom, and regularly express them to the Government of Rwanda. However, they also have a strong record on protecting refugees. I know the hon. Lady cares about Afghans, especially women, and she will know that Afghanistan’s only girls’ school recently relocated all its staff, its students and their families to Rwanda. The headteacher herself has described their reception in Rwanda as one of
“kindness, and sensitivity, and humanity”.
Those are her words, not mine.
I call SNP spokesperson Alyn Smith.
I really am troubled by this. We think this is a disastrous policy that will not do anything about small boats in the channel, but let us put that to one side. The Minister and the Foreign Secretary must be aware of the grave misgivings among Foreign Office officials about this policy. Can they name a single non-governmental organisation that is in favour of it? Are they just glossing over the human rights concerns about the Rwandan Government? An international development partnership with Rwanda is one thing, but this is entirely different. Are they glossing over concerns in the cynical expectation that the policy will come to nothing? That is the only thing I can think of that would allow them to lend credence to this disastrous policy.
We are absolutely not glossing over our concerns about rights when it comes to, for example, space for political opposition, civil rights and media freedom. Indeed, I met the permanent secretary of the Rwandan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation in London earlier this year and made those points to her. However, to break the people trafficking model that is causing lives to be put at risk in our channel, things need to be done; doing nothing is not an option. That is why the Government of Rwanda have willingly entered into this partnership; they too want to stop lives being put at risk.