The threat of deportation to Rwanda is having a “catastrophic” impact on the wellbeing of asylum seekers, charities have warned, amid “tragic” reports that people are attempting to take their own life rather than be removed from the UK.
Under the government’s controversial policy, which has been widely condemned as inhumane and ineffective, a first group of asylum seekers will be flown to Rwanda on 14 June to have their claims processed.
Ahead of this, charities have received reports that people due to be deported are becoming suicidal or mentally unwell. Even those not impacted by the policy are growing more anxious and distressed, campaigners say.
“We have been receiving a number of worrying reports from our services working directly with people in the asylum system about the devastating impact the threat being expelled to Rwanda is having on them,” said Enver Solomon, CEO at the Refugee Council.
“We are hearing tragic stories about the severe impact on mental health, including reports of self-harm. We are concerned the government is not seeing the face behind the case and should be doing far more to exercise its duty of care towards vulnerable people.”
Last week, The Independent reported that an Afghan man who came to the UK as a child tried to take his own life after being told he faces deportation to Rwanda.
Hakim Khan, 32, said he would “rather die” than be sent to the east African nation after he was detained at Brook House removal centre this month.
“I tried to take my life the day before yesterday... I just want to be free, I want to be with my family, I want to be a human,” said the asylum seeker, who first arrived in the UK as a child in 2008.
The Guardian reported the case of a female Iranian asylum seeker who attempted suicide, telling charity workers she took this action because she feared the prospect of deportation to Rwanda.
“These are men, women and children who have already endured so much trauma and upheaval,” Mr Solomon added.
The Refugee Council said it had expressed its concerns over the mental health of asylum seekers in an open joint letter with the British Red Cross, which said the Rwanda policy has left many asylum seekers distressed and anxious – “even though they may not be directly impacted”.
Last year, the Home Office identified 17,440 asylum seekers who were deemed to be vulnerable and were referred to what are known as “safeguarding hubs,” according to freedom of information data obtained by The Guardian.
Earlier this month, The Independent reported asylum seekers are disappearing from hotels and growing reluctant to claim support over fears that they may be deported to Rwanda.
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In one case, a Rwandan asylum seeker supported by the British Red Cross disclosed that he would go into hiding and abstain from accessing support for fear that he could be deported back to the country from which he fled.
Mohamed Omar, head of experts by experience and partnerships at Refugee Action, said the Rwanda policy was having a “catastrophic” effect on the wellbeing of refugees stuck in the asylum system.
“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,” he added.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said that the UK’s policy “will inevitably fail to provide protection for those most in need of it and increase the risk of refugees resorting to more dangerous journeys.”
Catherine Stubberfield, a spokesperson for UNHCR, said: “We continue to urge the government of the United Kingdom to instead work on readily available alternatives that would be more efficient, humane and cost-effective, and stand ready to offer our ongoing support for such alternatives.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We take every step to prevent self-harm or suicide, which is why asylum seekers have access to a health and social care services from the moment they arrive, and we have a dedicated welfare team onsite at each asylum accommodation site responsible for identifying vulnerable asylum seekers and supporting them.
“Everyone considered for relocation to Rwanda will be screened on a case-by-case basis, and nobody will be removed if it is unsafe or inappropriate for them.”
If you need to speak to someone, the Samaritans are available 24/7 on 116 123.