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PRITI PATEL’S Rwanda deal is already causing “immense harm” to asylum-seekers in Britain – with some running away from hostels over fears of being deported, the Morning Star has learned.
The Star spoke to two asylum-seekers who decided to flee their accommodation following the Home Secretary’s announcement two weeks ago.
Despite the risks of leaving Home Office accommodation, including becoming destitute and vulnerable to exploitation, both said they would prefer to sleep on the streets in the UK than risk being sent to Rwanda.
“I’ve already had a war in my country, I came all this way to seek refuge to have peace of mind,” Asif*, a Syrian national who came to Britain by small boat earlier this year, said.
“Now we don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s inhumane.”
Under the deal, asylum-seekers who arrived in Britain after January 1 in small boats across the Channel could be deported on a one-way ticket to Rwanda to claim asylum there.
The Home Office claims people sent to Rwanda would be provided with safe accommodation, food, healthcare, translators and access to legal support, but the policy has been widely condemned and is now subject to two legal challenges, launched this week.
Mahir*, also from Syria, spoke of living in a state of fear since the deal was announced. “I left the hotel because of my fears of the government’s decision,” he told the Star.
“In Syria we didn’t go out of our houses because we are always frightened. If I left my home for even five minutes, a police car would come and take me either to the army or prison straight away.
“When I came to Britain I felt safe and at home here, I could go out of the house at midnight or anytime [and] no-one would bother me.
“Now I am always frightened going out, walking around the street, communicating with people, because I don’t know what is going to happen in the next hour, the next second.
“When I heard about this decision I even thought about suicide. Taking me to Rwanda will affect me and if I didn’t take my life here I would do it in Rwanda.”
Mahir is now staying with a friend, but says he cannot stay there long. Both asylum-seekers are waiting to see whether the Rwanda deal will be dropped, after which time they hope they can resume their asylum cases.
Kenan, a co-founder of the refugee-led charity Life Seekers Aid, told the Star he knows of “many” asylum-seekers who have left hotels for the same reason: “They are terrified of being moved out to Africa, to Rwanda.”
Even asylum-seekers who arrived before January 1 fear they could be targeted and are among those who have gone into hiding, Kenan says.
“The Home Office is converting them from asylum-seekers to illegal immigrants,” he said.
“They are now undocumented people in this country.”
Refugee rights charities have also highlighted that while no-one has yet been sent to Rwanda, the announcement alone has had a “catastrophic” impact on asylum-seekers’ wellbeing.
“Families are scared and anxious to leave their homes, and even people who claimed asylum years ago are worried that they may be targeted for deportation,” Refugee Action’s Mohamed Omar said.
Humans for Rights Network director Maddie Harris told the Star: “I think the policy, in advance of anybody going there, is already causing immense harm [not only because of] people feeling unwelcome and unwanted but also being absolutely terrified that they are at risk of being sent to Rwanda.
“We’ve even had unaccompanied children saying, if they send me to Rwanda I will kill myself.”
Ms Harris added that the policy will have the opposite effect of the government’s stated aim of “saving lives” and disrupting smuggler gangs operating the Channel crossing route.
Asylum-seekers who are pushed underground by the policy are far more at risk of exploitation, she warned, while fears of being detected will lead to smuggling gangs creating more secretive and dangerous routes across the Channel.
Kenan said he’s received hundreds of terrified calls from asylum-seekers desperately seeking information about whether the deal will affect them.
“The difficult thing for me is not to be able to give them a direct answer,” he said.
“One guy who … arrived in January, he was telling us that during the night he was feeling panic, screaming, and knocked his head on the wall because of that feeling of uncertainty.”
Others have told volunteers that they are considering going into hiding, according to migrant aid group Care4Calais.
The group’s founder Clare Mosely said: “The government tells us that they want refugees to behave ‘legally’ but they are introducing policies that force them underground.
“This only encourages exploitation of the most vulnerable. Surely we want people building their new lives safely in our communities and contributing to society, not living hidden in fear?
“This is the human cost of using vulnerable people as political pawns.”
Abbas* is among those considering leaving if the plan is enacted. “If the deal is serious and I hear that government will take asylum-seekers to Rwanda, I will go out,” he told the Star.
“This decision has had a bad impact on everyone. The government must rethink the decision.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Rwanda is a fundamentally secure country and the UN Refugee Agency noted its safe and protective environment for refugees.
“Those relocated will have the support they need, including accommodation, food, healthcare, translators and legal support.
“The UK has robust controls to ensure immigration laws are complied with.”
*Names have been changed to protect identities.
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