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FPH statement on the Safety of Rwanda Bill 

The Faculty of Public Health is gravely concerned about the implications of the ‘Safety of Rwanda Bill’ for public health. 

Since the government first publicised its plans to remove people seeking asylum in the UK to Rwanda, the FPH has repeatedly joined other health and medical organisations in challenging this approach. The ‘Safety of Rwanda Bill’ that passed in April 2024 asserts that Rwanda is a safe third country, limits the scope for individuals to challenge their removal to Rwanda, and paves the way for relocations to begin. 

These relocations, and the threat of them, pose a significant risk of harm to the mental health of irregular migrants. A report by Medical Justice in 2022 noted that the prospect of removal to Rwanda had exacerbated detained people's mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety and PTSD. 

The implementation of the offshore asylum processing policy by Australia has led to widespread mental health impacts among relocated asylum seekers, with Médecins Sans Frontières reporting that 60% of the people they treated in Nauru were having suicidal thoughts and 30% had attempted suicide. Relocating migrants from the UK will negatively impact the health of a cohort known to already experience multiple vulnerabilities, who may not be able to access the necessary support and healthcare when arriving in Rwanda.

The government does not appear to have established processes to proactively identify whether people selected for relocation would be at risk of experiencing harms to their health. The government’s guidance states that individuals must show ‘compelling evidence’ that removal to Rwanda would be unsafe, or ‘lead to a serious, rapid and irreversible decline in… health leading to intense suffering’ or ‘significant reduction in life expectancy’. This will exclude people who are indeed at risk of health deterioration but do not have access to the evidence needed to meet this high threshold, or the support needed to make a claim. 

In addition, the Bill imposes ethical and legal challenges for those required to enact it, including civil servants and doctors, by mandating them to actions that potentially conflict with international laws and human rights standards

FPH is committed to championing health and equity in all policies, with ‘tackling health inequalities and a public health approach to anti-racism’ being one of our priorities. The current policies being pushed forward by the government will cause unnecessary and avoidable harms to health for an already excluded population, and will have wider impacts on structural racism and social cohesion.

We call upon the government to urgently reconsider their approach, and work instead towards establishing a safe, fair, effective and humane asylum system, with integration at its core.

Published 20 May 2024

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