by Emily Wilbourn and Sophie Kloos

The dramatic European Court of Human Rights intervention that prevented the first planned deportation of asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda on 14 June 2022 has provided only momentary relief for those who may soon find themselves being flown 4,000 miles away to an unknown fate. Following the announcement of the Rwanda deal by the soon-to-be-former UK Prime Minister on 14 April 2022, the Home Office published a suite of Country Policy and Information Notes (CPINs) justifying their new plan. New and in-depth analysis of the Country Policy and Information Note: Rwanda, asylum system (asylum system CPIN) by Asylos sheds light on a number of key methodological concerns:

Selective consideration of the available information

Analysis of both the sources relied upon in the asylum system CPIN, and other sources that were not used by the Home Office, suggest that it has selectively relied on Country of Origin Information in making assessments on issues of fundamental importance.

For example, while the Home Office concludes in its assessment that there is a functioning asylum procedure which affords adequate access to asylum seekers, the information included in its asylum system CPIN fails to fully support this conclusion. Furthermore, information in sources cited or consulted by the Home Office that was not selected for inclusion in its publication points to the existence of significant concerns. These include indications that asylum seekers have struggled to access the asylum procedure, with some groups of people, such as those not originating from the region, and LGBTQI+ people, experiencing particular challenges.

With regards to the issue of legal representation, the Rwanda assessment suggests that while legal assistance is not provided for by the Government of Rwanda except in the case of appeals to the High Court, the Legal Aid Forum would alternatively be able to provide legal support for relocated asylum seekers at earlier stages of an asylum claim. However, this assessment fails to consider information that indicates that there is already a large gap between the needs of the current refugee and asylum seeker population and the legal support available. The actual numbers of asylum seekers who have received legal assistance through LAF over a recent five-year period is very low, casting serious doubt over whether legal support would in fact be available at the scale required, and in line with the terms of the MoU.

With regards to the issues of detention used within the asylum process and the risk of refoulement, the Home Office maintains in its assessment that there is no evidence of these occurring. However, the asylum system CPIN fails to include relevant information from multiple sources, including those that the Home Office consulted or cited, which indicates that asylum seekers have, in fact, been detained by the authorities, and that instances of refoulement, and possible indirect refoulement, have been documented in the recent past.

Overall, the Home Office appears to make conclusive assessments on various aspects of the situation in Rwanda, belying the more contradictory picture that the Country of Origin Information suggests.

Information gaps

Our analysis has further found that the asylum system CPIN omitted to include information on how some of the guarantees in the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Rwandan government will be met, how they will be resourced and within what timescale. 

For example, it seems that interpreters have not been routinely provided to asylum-seekers by the authorities in Rwanda, but despite the MoU guarantee that access to an interpreter will be provided for relocated individuals at all stages of the asylum claim, no information has been included to address how interpreting services will be delivered to meet the new demand, in the languages and at the scale required.

In addition, the risk of deportation of asylum seekers back to their country of origin was not adequately addressed in the Home Office publications. Under a bilateral deal between the Israeli and Rwandan governments to relocate asylum seekers from Israel to Rwanda, the majority of asylum seekers were not able to access asylum in Rwanda, and were therefore forced to travel onward from Rwanda, in what may amount to a situation of indirect refoulement. By failing to consider such information, important issues and risks are minimised and the state of the Rwandan asylum system is presented in a way that is incoherent with the available information.

We welcome the Home Office’s intention to review their Rwanda CPINs in the course of this year, and we look forward to the forthcoming review into the Home Office publications that was commissioned by the Independent Advisory Group for Country Information.

You can download our full commentary on the Home Office publications Rwanda: Asylum system and the related Rwanda: Assessment below. Our commentary is intended as a guide for legal practitioners and decision makers. While it should not be submitted in isolation as evidence to the UK Home Office, the Tribunal or other decision makers in asylum applications, appeals or related submissions, legal representatives are welcome to submit the information referred to in this document to decision makers (including judges) to assist in their decision-making process. 

Access the Commentary

Rwanda: Asylum System
July 2022