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Ethics briefing
  1. Rebecca Mussell,
  2. Sophie Brannan,
  3. Caroline Ann Harrison,
  4. Veronica English,
  5. Julian C Sheather
  1. Medical Ethics, British Medical Association, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Ms Rebecca Mussell, Medical Ethics, British Medical Association, London WC1H 9JP, UK; rmussell{at}

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UK proposals for ‘offshoring’ asylum seekers to Rwanda

Legal battles continue in the UK over the Government’s plans to transport asylum seekers arriving on British shores to Rwanda in East Africa. Originally announced as a system for ‘processing’ asylum seekers, the Government has subsequently made it clear that there would not be an option for asylum seekers to return to the UK. The arrangement forms part of a deal between the UK and Rwanda, with the UK promising to invest £120 m in economic growth and development in Rwanda, along with financing the cost of the ‘offshored’ asylum operation.1

The Government states that the policy is designed to break the business model of people traffickers involved in facilitating hazardous trips across the Channel in small, overcrowded and unseaworthy craft, leading to multiple drownings. Critics argue that the policy will do nothing to stop desperate people from seeking refuge in the UK, that transferring already traumatised people to Rwanda – which has been criticised for its human rights record – is inhumane and potentially outwith international law. Medical bodies, including the BMA, along with refugee organisations have expressed serious concerns about the health impact of such a system of ‘offshoring’. An equivalent system in Australia has been notorious for the devastating health impacts on those ‘offshored’ to the Pacific islands of Manus and Naura. Unusually in the UK the offshoring proposals have been greeted by unanimous condemnation by the Church of England.

The lawfulness of the process is also subject to question. On the 14 July, a plane carrying a small number of asylum seekers to Rwanda was halted shortly before take-off following an intervention by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). The ECtHR, part of the Council of Europe, of which the UK is still a member, said an Iraqi man known as KN faced ‘a real …

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  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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