UK asylum seekers fear over safety in Rwanda under deportation law | World News - Hindustan Times
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UK asylum seekers fear over safety in Rwanda under deportation law

AFP |
Apr 24, 2024 08:04 PM IST

Fear and uncertainty is widespread among those living on the Bibby Stockholm, who leave the barge each day to come into the town centre.

Asylum seekers housed on an accommodation barge on the coast of southern England say they are afraid of being sent to Rwanda, after a controversial proposal for deportation was approved.

An aerial photograph taken on April 24, 2024 shows the Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge, moored to the quayside at Portland Port, in Portland, on the south-west coast of England. (AFP)
An aerial photograph taken on April 24, 2024 shows the Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge, moored to the quayside at Portland Port, in Portland, on the south-west coast of England. (AFP)

"I'd rather die," said one of them. But none of those living on the government-leased Bibby Stockholm knows whether they will be on the list.

"Everybody is talking about Rwanda on Bibby Stockholm," said Atuib, a 23-year-old from Sudan, who crossed the Channel from northern France in a small boat last year.

Atuib has been staying for the last two weeks on the barge, which was moored in Portland harbour near the coastal resort of Weymouth, last year.

Designed to accommodate up to 500 asylum seekers, it has been controversial because of complaints about conditions on board.

Some have likened it to a prison. One man was found dead in a suspected suicide last December.

But for some there, those concerns appeared secondary on Tuesday, a day after UK lawmakers approved the government's plans to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda.

"A friend called me from London to tell me the government will send every migrant like me to Rwanda," said Atuib in Weymouth town centre.

But he said Rwanda would send him back to Sudan, from where his mother and sister fled conflict in the region of Darfur.

They are now in a refugee camp in neighbouring Chad, he added.

"Rwanda is not good. It's not safe," he told AFP.

ALSO READ| Five migrants drown in English Channel hours after UK passes Rwanda policy

- 'I'd rather die' -

Rwanda has dominated the debate about the Conservative government's plans to curb irregular migration since deportation was first mooted in 2022.

But after the first flights that year were halted by a last-minute court injunction, the plan has been beset by legal challenges.

The UK Supreme Court in November last year ruled that it was illegal to deport migrants to Rwanda to have their asylum application processed.

Central to the judges' ruling was that it was not a safe third country, and migrants were at risk of being sent elsewhere, including their own countries.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's proposal to get round the ruling by legislating that Rwanda is safe cleared parliament on Monday after months of debate.

He has said the first flights will take off in the next 10 to 12 weeks, and continue regularly over the summer months.

"I'd rather die than go to Rwanda," said Martin, 28, from South Africa, who arrived in the UK more than a year ago and has been on the Bibby Stockholm for three months.

He did not say why he left South Africa, describing it as "too painful".

But on the threat of being sent to Rwanda he was clear. "It's better to kill me than take me to Rwanda," he said.

"I don't know if I will be sent to Rwanda or not but it's not us who make the decision. But I know it can happen to me so I'm in fear, yes."

ALSO READ| How will Indian illegal migrants in UK be impacted by Rwanda deportation plan?

- Deterrent? -

Fear and uncertainty is widespread among those living on the Bibby Stockholm, who leave the barge each day to come into the town centre.

Ahmed and Muhammed, two Afghans aged 26 and 27, don't think they will selected. "But no one knows," said Ahmed.

The pair arrived on student visas in 2022 and 2023 and had university scholarships. They then requested asylum and are awaiting a formal decision.

Sunak has said the policy will be a deterrent for anyone wanting to come to the UK outside regular channels, and break the people smuggling gangs behind the "small boats" crossings.

"If people know there is no place for them here, they won't come, they'll choose another country," said Ahmed.

But Muhammed, who was a student of international law barely a few months ago and -- like his friend -- wants to continue his studies, doesn't agree.

"It's not going to work. They will not stop. They can challenge in court the decision. There will be many challenges," he said before the pair headed to the library in Weymouth town centre.

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