“There are serious risks that the international law principle of non-refoulement will be violated by forcibly transferring asylum seekers to Rwanda,” said Siobhán Mullally, the UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in human beings, especially women and children.
“People seeking international protection, fleeing conflict and persecution, have the right to seek and enjoy asylum – a fundamental principle of international human rights and refugee law,” she said.
The special rapporteur welcomed urgent interim measures from the European Court of Human Rights, which earlier this week grounded a flight over the transfer of a small group of asylum seekers to the Central African nation.
Increased risk of exploitation
†Transferring asylum seekers to third countries does nothing to prevent or fight human traffickingIn fact, desperate people are likely to end up in riskier and more dangerous situations,” Ms Mullally said. “Instead of reducing human trafficking, it probably increases the risks of exploitation.”
The Special Rapporteur expressed concern that the scheme does not protect the rights of asylum seekers who are victims of trafficking in human beings and who seek protection in the United Kingdom. These victims and individuals at risk of being trafficked could be transferred under the scheme, she said.
“There are insufficient safeguards to ensure that victims of trafficking or persons at risk of trafficking are identified, receive assistance and ensure effective access to international protection. They risk further victimization and trauma by being transferred to a third country,” added the special rapporteur.
“I am also concerned that there are insufficient safeguards against the risk of human trafficking or new human trafficking for those who are denied asylum or who are arbitrarily removed from Rwanda to another state.”
Ms. Mullally reiterated the concerns of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees about: difficulties encountered in revealing traumatic experiences – such as human trafficking – in screening interviews for asylum seekers, which are usually conducted shortly after arrival.
Under the scheme, UK authorities will conduct an initial screening before deciding whether a person may be transferred.
The independent expert said: initial screening was not sufficient to identify and recognize the specific protection needs of asylum seekers, including victims of trafficking in human beings.
Past concerns about human rights
The Special Rapporteur has has previously expressed her concerns regarding the Nationality and Borders Bill, and its potential adverse effects on the human rights of victims of human trafficking.
She has also repeatedly expressed concerns to the international community about the increasing tendency to place migration within a criminal law enforcement paradigm.
“Restrictive measures on migration are presented as part of the fight against organized crime, including human trafficking, regardless of how the measures may affect the human rights of migrants and human trafficking,” said the UN expert.
Make migration more secure
She urged states to expand pathways for safe, orderly and regular migration without discrimination, to fight human trafficking.
Resettlement programmes, family reunification measures and issuance of humanitarian visas were more effective ways to prevent trafficking in people fleeing persecution and conflict, the special rapporteur said.
She called on all states to honor their international obligations with regard to the principle of non-refoulement in international law, which guarantees that no one should be returned to a country where they could suffer irreparable harm.
†We must not allow the anti-trafficking purpose to be misused in an attempt to undermine the right to seek and enjoy asylum from persecutionand the principle of non-refoulement,” she concluded.
Special Rapporteurs report to the Human Rights Council and operate in their individual capacity. They are not UN personnel and are not paid for their work.