Gay Rwandan man begs Suella Braverman to see refugees as human beings: ‘They have a story’

Jan 16, 23
Gay Rwandan man begs Suella Braverman to see refugees as human beings: ‘They have a story’

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A gay Rwandan refugee is pleading with the UK government to back away from its much-criticised Rwanda plan and to see asylum seekers as human beings.

Innocent, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, was subjected to homophobic bullying from children and adults alike while growing up gay in Rwanda. He later moved to the UK as a refugee where he’s been able to build a new life for himself.

Because of his own experiences, Innocent was horrified when he heard the UK government was planning to deport those it considers to have arrived “illegally” to Rwanda.

The reviled scheme was the brainchild of Priti Patel, but her successor Suella Braverman has pursued it relentlessly – even in the face of legal challenges. Human rights advocates were dealt a blow when the High Court ruled in December 2022 that the plan is lawful and that it does not breach the UN’s Refugee Convention.

That decision came months after the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) grounded the first flight bound for Rwanda.

Protesters from the LGBTQ+ group hold a banner during the demonstration at Home Office.
Protesters from the LGBTQ+ group hold a banner during the demonstration at Home Office. (Hesther Ng/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty)

Innocent was “disappointed” when he heard that the High Court had ruled the scheme was lawful – he knows Rwanda isn’t safe for LGBTQ+ people.

His experiences stand in stark contrast to a government assessment which found that “LGBT+ people did not face a real risk of persecution” in Rwanda.

“It’s definitely not a safe environment,” Innocent tells PinkNews. “They are not going to be protected, and they’re going to face discrimination. Some of them have already faced discrimination their entire lives and they went to the UK hoping that was going to change.”

Suella Braverman urged to see refugees as ‘human beings’

Home secretary Suella Braverman has said it’s her “dream” and “obsession” to see a flight depart the UK carrying people seeking asylum to Rwanda. Innocent thinks there is a large amount of humanity missing.

“We’re not talking about material that we can just ship to another place – they’re human beings. They have a story. They’re coming to the UK because they’ve already faced discrimination and injustice in their lives. 

“So let’s create an environment and try to understand them.”

A 'Stand up to Racism' campaigner outside the Royal Courts of Justice holding a sign that reads "safe routes not Tory brutes" on December 19, 2022 in London, England.
A ‘Stand up to Racism’ campaigner outside the Royal Courts of Justice holding a sign that reads “safe routes not Tory brutes” on December 19, 2022 in London, England. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

His advice to Braverman and Sunak is that they send delegates to Rwanda to do in-depth research about what life is like there for LGBTQ+ people.

“Talk to individuals, talk to communities… Try to really understand what is happening before you make a conclusion because to be honest, this is really harmful.”

Rainbow Migration, a charity that advocates for LGBTQ+ people seeking asylum, is renewing its call for the government to urgently back away from the Rwanda plan.

“This catastrophic scheme plans to banish people thousands of miles away to process their asylum claims. It presents a real danger to anyone seeking asylum in the UK, and especially LGBTQI+ people,” a spokesperson told PinkNews.

A protester holds placards opposed to the Rwanda refugee scheme during a demonstration in London. The signs read "No Rwanda flights" and "Stop Priti's Inhumanity".
A protester holds placards opposed to the Rwanda refugee scheme during a demonstration in London. (Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty)

“LGBTQI+ people are not safe in Rwanda. They are not legally protected, and are subject to entrenched discrimination, violence and abuse, including from security officials. 

“Instead of punishing people for coming here in search of safety, this government should be building a more compassionate and caring asylum system that considers asylum applications carefully, in a timely manner, and on a case-by-case basis.” 

A placard opposing the deportation of refugees to Rwanda is seen during a demonstration in Parliament Square. The placard reads "No to Rwanda deportations. Stop the flights".
A placard opposing the deportation of refugees to Rwanda is seen during a demonstration in Parliament Square. (Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty)

The Home Office has repeatedly defended the Rwanda plan, and has insisted that LGBTQ+ people will not be put at risk under the scheme.

A spokesperson previously described Rwanda as “a safe and secure country with a track record of supporting asylum seekers”.

While homosexuality is no longer criminalised in Rwanda, public attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people are not kind.

Even the UK government’s own website acknowledges that homosexuality is “frowned on” by many in Rwanda and that LGBTQ+ people may experience “discrimination and abuse, including from local authorities”.

In June, a gay man from Uganda told Africa News that he was “beaten terribly” in Rwanda for being gay, while a trans woman told the publication: “I cannot go anywhere or apply for a job. Not because I am not capable of that, but because of who I am.”

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