The Safety Rwanda Bill: a feminist perspective

With the passing of the new Safety of Rwanda Bill (2024) TNF investigates its gendered impacts.

The government’s new policy to relocate asylum seekers to Rwanda will have disastrous gendered impacts. This includes the lack of sensitivity to gender-based violence, the confusing claim process, the inappropriate accommodation in Rwanda’s asylum system and the rights of women in Rwanda.

The Rwanda Bill

The Safety of Rwanda Bill (2024) means that the UK will send asylum seekers to Rwanda who they view as having an ‘inadmissible’ asylum claim. The act rewrites judicial decisions by deeming Rwanda as ‘safe’. Therefore no court nor official can claim otherwise unless the act is overturned. This goes against the UK Supreme Court verdict which deemed Rwanda unsafe last year.

The bill sets a dangerous precedent by suspending multiple Articles from the Human Rights Act, allowing for human rights abuse. A number of legal rights are in jeopardy due to the Rwanda Bill, including Article Two (the right to life, Article Three (the right to freedom from torture and inhumane or degrading treatment), Article Five (the right to liberty and security), Article Six (the right to a fair trial), Article Seven (the right to no punishment without law), Article Eight (respect for your private and family life) and Article Nine (freedom of thought, believe and religion).

The UK government is not the only country to offshore migration processing. Australia has been sending asylum seekers to Nauru, an island in the Pacific since 2012. This inhumane offshore detention includes children, often breaking up families. While the UK currently excludes under-18s and migrants with dependents from being relocated to Rwanda, this could change. The breakup of families is still likely to happen, especially if family members have different rights to remain.

The bill creates a two-tier system where if you arrive in an ‘illegitimate’ way, e.g. on a small boat crossing, you can be relocated to Rwanda and have your claim processed there. Alternatively, if your claim is deemed admissible, you can stay and have your claim processed in the UK.  If you receive a notice of removal, you have a minimum of five days’ notice to appeal the decision.

The only appeal route available is to claim Rwanda would be unsafe for them,  for example, if they are a known opponent of the Rwandan government.

The claim process

The new bill excludes most of the legal avenues to challenge asylum decisions. The court can take interim measures to prevent or delay “only if the court is satisfied the person would, before the review or appeal is determined, face a real, imminent and foreseeable risk of serious and irreversible harm.”

The short period afforded to migrants means a rushed application and case-building process. This becomes a gendered issue when examining the issues around the disclosure of gender-based violence (GBV) discussed later in this article.

When creating an asylum claim, gender is not listed as a reason for persecution. This means there is a risk of wrongful dismissal of gender-based issues.

The asylum system in Rwanda

In Rwanda, asylum seekers can either live in refugee camps or sustain themselves in an urban area. If you are destitute and do not have the means to support yourself, which is often the case, you are forced to live in a refugee camp.

In these camps, only 80% have adequate shelter, the schools for refugee children lack resources and the conditions are often inappropriate for children and vulnerable adults, who are often survivors of abuse.  Additionally, asylum seekers deemed ‘not vulnerable’ by Rwandan authorities receive no food rations and are required to support themselves.

Refugee camps are also places prevalent for sexual violence and exploitation. The issue of gender-based violence outlines one of the biggest gendered impacts of the Rwanda Bill.

The prevalence of GBV

Reports have shown that 70% of refugee women have experienced violence in the UK or their country of origin. Many asylum-seeking women are fleeing from sex trafficking, torture and modern slavery. These women will not be disqualified from removal to Rwanda, which means the new Rwanda Bill and other asylum laws are not gender sensitive.

Many women are abused on their journey to the UK with one study finding 45% of women seeking asylum have experienced sexual violence, torture, physical violence and/or imprisonment.

GBV within the system

In UK detention centres there have been reports of staff being abusive. For example, in Yarls Wood detention centre between 2007 and 2015, ten members of staff were dismissed for incidents involving sexual impropriety towards female detainees.

The temporary accommodation asylum seekers are housed in can be inappropriate for survivors of gender-based violence. This includes mixed-gender accommodation, male staff, and a general lack of privacy. Refugee camps are even riskier.

Additionally, after rejection from asylum claims women are thrown into forced destitution, making them highly vulnerable to violence from precarious living situations and exploitative work. These conditions are within the control of the UK government, but conditions in offshore accommodation would be unknown, uncontrolled and potentially worse.


Asylum officials often fail to identify behaviour as abuse, with subtle indicators being missed. Women also can have a lack of awareness of the support services available as they navigate the difficult terrain of the asylum system.

Many women asylum seekers have a mistrust of authorities, fearing they might be removed and have asylum claims dismissed if they disclose incidences of abuse. This leaves them in a dangerous position.

Not only do survivors of abuse have to come to terms with their trauma and identify it as such, but they also then must disclose it to officials they have no personal relationship with. Delaying disclosure can affect the validity of their claim. However, trauma can make it difficult to talk about creating feelings of shame and guilt.

In the short window of time women have to appeal their removal to Rwanda they have to identify abuse, come to terms with it and disclose it in detail to unfamiliar immigration officials and tribunal staff. This will only go far as an interim measure to prevent or delay their removal while the claim is investigated.

Women in Rwanda

Despite Rwanda’s progressive gender breakdown of parliament, gender inequalities run deep. Within Rwanda’s wider society, gender relations remain highly patriarchal with one-third of women reporting violence from their partner.

Additionally, in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, the rape, enslavement and torture of women was common practice. The country has moved on since then however the scars remain.

This begs the question; Will Rwanda sufficiently protect women asylum seekers?

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