30 May 2024

UK’s dangerous Safety of Rwanda Act raises exploitation risks

On 25 April, the United Kingdom (UK) Government’s Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Act 2024 (Rwanda Act) became law, alongside the ratification of the UK-Rwanda Treaty.

Photo Credit: Naeblys via GettyImages.

These measures circumvent legal rulings against the UK’s controversial asylum offshoring policy, and undermine refugee rights while also elevating risks of modern slavery.

What is the Safety of Rwanda Act?

The Rwanda Act allows the UK Government to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda for processing of their claims, if they are considered to have arrived in the UK “illegally”. This comes against a backdrop of the increasing curtailment of legal pathways for asylum seekers into the country, forcing many to undertake the journey on small boat crossings.

Despite the UK Supreme Court’s ruling to the contrary in November 2023, the Act declares Rwanda as universally safe for asylum seekers and restricts judicial review of decisions to transfer individuals there on the basis of safety.

Concerningly, the treaty even suggests creating an entirely separate legal system specifically to decide who is deported to Rwanda. This creates the potential for an ‘assembly line’ of deportations being approved, without comprehensive consideration of the applicant’s situation and rights.

Further, the Act explicitly carves out asylum cases involving Rwanda from the protections of the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights. This puts the UK’s various human rights commitments out of reach for this already vulnerable population.

In enacting this law, the UK Government has supercharged the ‘hostile environment’ into what some experts argue amounts to an asylum ban.

Trafficking and modern slavery risks

Teapicker carrying a heavy load of tea

In enforcing these laws, the UK Government is setting a dangerous precedent that jeopardises the lives of already vulnerable people and undermines their own efforts to combat exploitation. Photo Credit: guenterguni via Getty Images.

Anti-slavery experts have advocated against this migration scheme for years on the basis it will enable modern slavery.

By stripping away legal protections, curtailing the ability of judicial review, and severing support networks, the Act leaves asylum seekers, including potential victims, extremely vulnerable to exploitation by opportunistic traffickers at every point of the migration route.

The House of Commons even rejected amendments proposed by the House of Lords that would have prevented victims of modern slavery from removal to Rwanda. There is also well-documented abuse, harassment, and intimidation of refugees in Rwanda, compounding these risks.

There is a very real possibility that modern slavery survivors may be among those deported to Rwanda. Without adequate screening mechanisms in place, the UK may be complicit in re-traumatising and re-trafficking victims of modern slavery.

The Act makes no provisions to identify potential victims before deportation or allow access to vital recovery services and assistance mandated under the UK’s Modern Slavery Act and international conventions. Survivors among those deported would be cut off entirely from the support and protections they are legally entitled to in the UK.

The policy seriously undermines the UK’s major taxpayer-funded initiatives to combat modern slavery globally, such as the £53 million aid package announced in 2021, the over £200 million spent on modern slavery programs from 2015-2019, and the commitment to the Modern Slavery and Migration Envoy role for 2021-2025.or 2021-2025.

Neither does this Act recognise or address the root causes that are pushing people towards seeking asylum. Compounding crises such as the effects of conflict, natural disasters brought on by climate change, and other existential threats, are displacing entire populations and increasing their risks of exploitation while attempting to seek safety and survival.

Call to action


Demonstrators hold placards as they protest near the gates of 10 Downing Street in central London on May 8, 2024 during an anti-racism rally called by associations including Stand Up To Racism, to denounce the UK government’s Rwanda Bill. Photo Credit: BENJAMIN CREMEL via AFP via Getty Images.

The Rwanda Act and UK-Rwanda Treaty brazenly overrides judicial authority and human rights commitments. In enforcing these laws, the UK Government is setting a dangerous precedent that jeopardises the lives of already vulnerable people and undermines their own efforts to combat exploitation.

We urge the UK Government to immediately cease implementing the Safety of Rwanda Act, given the unacceptable risks it poses of enabling modern slavery and other human rights violations against asylum seekers and refugees. This Act will be a stain on this Government, which had previously led the world in national efforts to combat modern slavery.

Instead of derogating its responsibilities owed under international law, the UK Government must work cooperatively with other nations and stakeholders to implement safe migration pathways and recognise the fundamental principle that no person seeking protection is illegal – no matter how they arrived.