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Rwanda Scheme puts power in the hands of traffickers

Blog by a member of the Lived Experience Advisory Panel at the Modern Slavery PEC

Published: 15th April 2024

I remember the first time I heard about this Rwanda scheme: I did not understand what it meant and the rationale behind the scheme, then I started watching the news and reading papers I collected from the bus every morning on my way to college. From all the information I have gathered – and backed up by evidence produced by the Modern Slavery PEC for which I work as a lived experience advisor - I have concluded that this scheme is good for nothing and puts more power in the hands of traffickers and I will explain why I think this way.

First, the Rwanda scheme is designed to remove people fleeing for their lives who enter the UK without acceptable documentation to seek refuge or asylum, either back to their home country or to another country - Rwanda. The UK Government is now working to pass this plan through Parliament into an Act and agree a treaty with Rwanda to make this possible.

The Rwanda Scheme will impact survivors of modern slavery who came into the UK irregularly. As soon as they are identified as potential victims, instead of allowing them to complete the process of identification, get support and start their healing journey, the Government is planning on keeping them detained and removing them to Rwanda.

As a person with lived experience of modern slavery and human trafficking, I know the negative impact this will have on the survivors, and one of the major negative impacts is that this scheme will put more power in the hands of traffickers and allow them to further exploit people.

From my experience, I know that there is already a huge power imbalance between the trafficker and the victim. From a victim's perspective, the trafficker is powerful and influential, makes all the decisions and calls the shots, while the victim has no voice, no choice, and no power but to do as the trafficker says. When you are in this situation, the only source of hope the victim clings to is that one day luck may shine on them, and the Government and the authorities will find them and save them from their captivity and give them their freedom and their rights back.

But if this Rwanda scheme is implemented, it will not only take this hope away, but will empower the traffickers to continue enslaving and subdue the victims. The traffickers will stop at nothing to uphold their power over the survivors and keep them threatened and in servitude. They will also use every opportunity that comes their way to threaten and keep their victims under their subjection and perpetual bondage as long as they can.

"If this Rwanda scheme is implemented, it will not only take the hope away, but will empower the traffickers to continue enslaving and subdue the victims."

What’s more, with the Rwanda scheme, it feels like the Government is going to act exactly like your trafficker. Instead of protecting you and promoting your human rights, it will detain you and send you to another foreign land just like the trafficker did and brought you to the UK without any warning. The Government is not going to ask for your permission to lock you up in a camp in Rwanda, where you will have security guards watching your every move day and night and doing head counts at night as if you are in prison.

Instead of allowing you in a supportive community where you can access therapeutic support and care, your freedom is taken away, like what the traffickers did, your right to freedom and private life is also taken away as the traffickers did. The hope of rebuilding your life is dashed, there is no more hope and it feels like you are being trafficked again.

The thought of this ordeal brings back the anxiety of the horrible experience to me and this is exactly the picture of the scenario the traffickers are going to paint in the minds of the victims just to further manipulate them and continue to control while exploiting them.

"With the Rwanda scheme, it feels like the Government is going to act exactly like your trafficker."

I remember vividly how my trafficker constantly told me that the Government or the police could not help me and that if I tried to escape or disobey the orders, they had the power to punish me and make me face the consequences. They told me there was no one to save me and, unfortunately, I believed them until I got arrested while obeying them.

Luckily, in the end, I got support and started my journey to recovery. But imagine a situation where the trafficker has evidence such as the Rwanda scheme to show to the people they’re controlling that their only source of hope - the Government - is acting similarly to the trafficker. This is enough to defeat the survivor and further prevent them from escaping and coming forward for help, while the trafficker feels empowered to continue their harmful act.