Sri Lankan refugees will be removed from UK-ruled island to Rwanda for medical treatment amid deportation fears

Sri Lankan refugees will be removed from UK-ruled island to Rwanda for medical treatment amid deportation fears
Three asylum seekers will be removed from the British Indian Ocean Territory to Rwanda for medical treatment, raising fears that deportations to Africa will soon become routine UK policy.
2 min read
16 November, 2022
The first flight from the UK to Rwanda was grounded due to an intervention from European courts [Getty]

Three Sri Lankan asylum seekers stranded on the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) are expected to be transported to Rwanda for medical treatment, according to a UK Foreign Office official. 

Since October 2021, dozens of Sri Lankan asylum seekers hoping to escape poverty and persecution travelled on small boats to Diego Garcia, an island in the Indian Ocean under British sovereignty, The New Humanitarian reported

While some people were sent back to Sri Lanka on flights arranged by BIOT authorities, others were temporarily being sent to Rwanda for treatment, the journal reported, quoting unnamed UK government sources. 

Refugee campaigners have expressed concerns that removals from BIOT could be used by London as a precedent to allow for the systematic deportation of asylum seekers from Britain to Rwanda, a controversial migration policy currently being challenged in British courts. 

"One thing that worries me is that this could be the precursor to the Rwanda plan," Janahan Sivanathan, a paralegal at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said to The New Humanitarian. 

"They have this migration deal that they spent millions and millions on, but they are unable to send anyone from the UK," Sivanathan added. 

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Britain’s Rwanda deportation policy is being challenged in the High Courts by refugee charities and trade unions on the grounds that it breaks international refugee law and that Rwanda isn’t a safe country, as claimed by the UK Home Office. 

There has been no verdict yet on the legality of the policy. 

However, the BIOT is exempt from the UK’s international human rights treaties. 

Asylum seekers on the island have already been told they cannot come to the UK to claim asylum. If they are unable to return to Sri Lanka due to safety reasons, then they will be sent to an "unspecified third country".

Individuals stuck on Diego Garcia believe this will be Rwanda, and have told The New Humanitarian that they don’t want to go to "an unsafe country". 

The African nation has a record of illegal detention and forcibly removing refugees across borders to places like Uganda, as stated in UN evidence given to the UK High Court.

Nevertheless, UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who resigned over misconduct but was then re-appointed to UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s cabinet, has continued to speak out in support of the plan as a means to stem the flow of refugees to the UK.