8 May 2024
Prevent Psychological Harm: Open Letter to Oppose the Safety of Rwanda Act

This letter was composed and signed by mental health professionals, including psychologists and psychotherapists working in the National Health Service (NHS), the third sector and beyond. We are deeply alarmed by the violent and traumatic nature of the UK’s Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Act (2024). As experts in the field of mental health, we write this letter to expose the catastrophic psychological harm it will cause.

The principal aim of the Safety of Rwanda Act is to deter people from seeking asylum in the UK without prior permission (Home Office, 2024). This, however, was decided despite a lack of evidence (UK Parliament, 2024), which is unprofessional and evidently incorrect given the increase in people arriving via small boats due to a lack of legal and safe routes (House of Commons Committee, 2023).

To seek asylum is a human right (United Nations, 1948). The Act’s blatant violation of this was recognised by the Supreme Court (Amnesty International, 2024) and the UK parliament (House of Commons Committee, 2023). This law may also infringe on the international refugee law of non-refoulement (i.e., the prohibition of returning people to a country where they may face harm) as Rwanda’s legal and judiciary system has previously breached this (United Nations, 2024). Additionally, reports illuminate that Rwanda will likely be unsafe for people with marginalised identities such as LGBTQIA+ (openDemocracy, 2024; Powell, 2023) due to discrimination and abuse (Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, 2021). It is crucial to acknowledge that human rights violations have a traumatic and intolerable impact on individuals, families, communities, societies and nations (Engdhal et al., 2018).

These human rights violations would happen in addition to the trauma experienced throughout migration. Often, people’s journeys are marked by, and not limited to, human trafficking, exploitation, torture, war and persecution (Chen et al., 2017; Carlsson et al., 2018), alongside cultural and personal loss, typically due to family separation (Liddell et al., 2021). Devastatingly, once people arrive in the UK, sanctuary seekers face unfair and hostile treatment by the Home Office, increased uncertainty, immeasurable fear of detention (Pollard & Howard, 2021), and marginalisation in the host society (Liddell et al., 2021).

Exposure to such trauma, which culminates over time, places people at risk of overwhelming mental distress, such as depression, anxiety, loneliness and post-traumatic stress disorder (Blackmore et al., 2020; Chen et al., 2017). This frequently leads to experiences of hopelessness and helplessness, which prevents people from accessing crucial integrated support (BPS, 2022), thus fuelling their emotional pain and destroying their chances of becoming fully-functioning members of society.

What would you hope for if you or anyone you love were to face such challenges? Would you stand for the blatant disregard for and violation of their rights? Would you want others to deny their humanity? Please remember that any person, no matter their life story, now faces the risk of the profoundly damaging act of removal.

There is an ethical and moral obligation to treat all people with compassion and dignity. People fleeing dangerous situations are entitled to a safe and secure life. This is particularly critical considering the grave impact of British colonialism and contributions to wars inflicted on communities from the Global South (Freire, 1970; Fanon, 2001). Moreover, outsourcing our asylum system to other countries abandons our duty to share the global responsibility of providing care to those forced to seek safety elsewhere.

It is imperative that the mental health of people seeking asylum is protected and the violence of this Act be acknowledged. We unite with the general public (Politics, 2024) and stand against this law. We demand an approach that aligns with the fundamental British values of democracy, individual liberty, the rule of law, and mutual respect for and tolerance of those with different faiths or beliefs (UK Government, 2014).

We call for you to lead by example, protect human rights and abolish the Safety of Rwanda Act.

Kind regards,

The undersigned

Amnesty International (2024). The State of the World’s Human Rights: United Kingdom. Amnesty International, p.390-393. amnesty.org/en/documents/pol10/7200/2024/en/...

Blackmore R, Boyle JA, Fazel M, Ranasinha S, Gray KM, Fitzgerald G, et al. (2020) The prevalence of mental illness in refugees and asylum seekers: A systematic review and metaanalysis. PLoS Med 17(9): e1003337. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1003337

British Psychological Society (BPS) (2022). BPS statement on the damaging mental health consequences of Rwanda deportations. bps.org.uk/news/bps-statement-damaging-mental-heal...

Carlsson, J. M., & Sonne, C. K. (2018). Mental Health, Pre-migratory Trauma and Post-migratory Stressors Among Adult Refugees. In Mental Health of Refugee and Conflict-Affected Populations: Theory, Research and Clinical Practice (1 ed., pp. 15-35). Springer. link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-319-97046-...

Chen, W., Hall, B. J., Ling, L., & Renzaho, A. M. (2017). Pre-migration and post-migration factors associated with mental health in humanitarian migrants in Australia and the moderation effect of post-migration stressors: findings from the first wave data of the BNLA cohort study. The Lancet Psychiatry, 4(3), 218-229. https://dx.doi.org/10.1016/ S2215-0366(17)30032-9

Engdahl, B., Kastrup, M., Jaranson, J., & Danieli, Y. (2018). The impact of traumatic human rights violations on victims and the mental health profession’s response. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 337-355.

Fanon, F. (2001). The wretched of the earth. London: Penguin.

Freire, P. (1970). Cultural action for freedom. Harvard Educational Review and Center for the Study of Development and Social Change.

Gleeson, C., Frost, R., Sherwood, L., Shevlin, M., Hyland, P., Halpin, R., … Silove, D. (2020). Post-migration factors and mental health outcomes in asylum-seeking and refugee populations: a systematic review. European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 11(1). https://doi.org/10.1080/20008198.2020.1793567

Home Office (2024). Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill: factsheet. Gov.uk. gov.uk/government/publications/the-safety-of-rwand...

House of Commons Committee (2023). Legislative Scrutiny: Illegal Migration Bill, UK, House of Commons Committee.

IRB – Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (Author): Rwanda: Situation of persons of diverse sexual orientation and gender identity and expression (SOGIE), including their treatment by society and state authorities; state protection and support services (2019–August 2021) [RWA200730.E], 23 August 2021 https://www.ecoi.net/en/document/2061342.html

Liddell B.J., Byrow Y., O’Donnell M., et al. (2021). Mechanisms underlying the mental health impact of family separation on resettled refugees. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry. 2021;55(7):699-710. doi:10.1177/0004867420967427

Migrant Help (2024). Statement in response to passage of the Safety of Rwanda Bill. Migrant Help. migranthelpuk.org/news/statement-in-response-to-pa...

openDemocracy (2024). ‘Safe’ Rwanda is refusing LGBTQ+ asylum seekers, Home Office was told in 2022. opendemocracy.net/en/rwanda-bill-safety-lgbtq-asyl...

Pollard, T., Howard, N. Mental healthcare for asylum-seekers and refugees residing in the United Kingdom: a scoping review of policies, barriers, and enablers. Int J Ment Health Syst 15, 60 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13033-021-00473-z

Politics (2024) British Future/Focaldata poll: Less than a quarter of the public back Rwanda Bill in current form, poll finds. politics.co.uk/news/2024/03/18/less-than-a-quarter...

Powell, A. (2023) ‘Developed’: Administrative Violence in Sexual Diversity Asylum Claims at the UK Home Office. In: Dalton, D., Smith, A. (Eds) Gender, Sexuality and the UN’s SDGs. Sustainable Development Goals Series. Palgrave Macmillian, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-31046-1_3

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Act 2024, c.8. legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2024/8/enacted:Thepurpose...

United Nations General Assembly. (1948). Universal declaration of human rights. un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-...

United Nations (2024). UK Rwanda Bill threatens to undermine independence of judiciary, UN experts say. United Nations. ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2024/03/uk-rwanda-bill...

UK Government (2014). Guidance on Promoting fundamental British values through SMSC. gov.uk/government/publications/promoting-fundament...

UK Parliament (2024) Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill. hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2024-04-22/debates/7...

416 verified
  1. Dafni Katsampa, Trainee Clinical Psychologist, NHS, London
  2. Caile Gordon, Trainee Clinical Psychologist, NHS, Salford
  3. Elena Opie, Trainee Clinical Psychologist, NHS, London
  4. Shannon Marsh, Trainee Clinical Psychologist, NHS, Manchester
  5. Emma Gibbard, Trainee Clinical Psychologist, NHS, Liverpool
  6. Jade Dalton, Trainee Clinical Psychologist, LSCFT, Hull
  7. Beccy Haragan, Trainee Clinical Psychologist, NHS, Aberdeen
  8. Rupa Patel, Trainee Clinical Psychologist, NHS, London
  9. Stephanie Armstrong, Clinical Psychologist, London
  10. Cynthia Nebo, Trainee Clinical Psychologist, NHS, London
  11. Georgina Wilkinson, Trainee Clinical psychologist, NHS, Bury
  12. Caroline Bradley, Principal Clinical Psychologist, Centrepoint, London
  13. Katy Brooks, Trainee clinical psychologist, NHS, Lancaster
  14. Bec Broughton, Trainee Clinical Psychologist, Colchester
  15. Zoe thomas, Trainee clinical psychologist, NHS, Brighton
  16. Mitchell Kemp, Trainee Clinical Psychologist, NHS, London
  17. Crystal Webster, Trainee Clinical Psychologist, NHS, Chorley
  18. Sopphire Anderson-Grey, Trainee Clinical Psychologist, NHS, London
  19. Dorian Campbell, Trainee Clinical Pyschogist, NHS Scotland, Edinburgh
  20. Renato Silveira, Trainee CBT therapist, NHS - IAPT, London
376 more
verified signatures
  1. Jemma Lang, Psychological Therapist, NHS, Bishopstoke, Eastleigh
  2. Lucy Jenner, Trainee Clinical Psych, NHS, London
  3. Gregory Shields, Doctor, South London and Maudsley, London
  4. Amy Chisholm, Clinical Psychologist, Amy Chisholm, LONDON
  5. Elaine Thomas, Registered Mental Health Nurse, NHS, London
  6. Dr Becky Anderson, Clinical Psychologist, NHS, Manchester
  7. Eirini Melegkovits, Clinical Psychologist, London
  8. Asmita Dhungana, Trainee Clinical Psychologist, NHS, Cambridge
  9. Jessica Saffer, Clinical Psychologist, London
  10. Chancy marsh, Clinical psychologist, The sycamore private practice, Rayleigh, Essex
  11. Liz malpass, Psychologist, Nhs, London
  12. Theoni Kyriazopoulou, Trainee clinical psychologist, NHS, Norwich
  13. Mhairi Gilmour, Trainee Clinical Psychologist, NHS, GGC
  14. Jennifer Sheardown, Trainee clinical psychologist, NHS, Manchester
  15. Alex Perkins, Researcher, NHS, London
  16. Marica Houghton, Trainee Clinical Psychologist, NHS
  17. Emma Russell, Clinical psychologist, NHS, Hove
  18. Naomi Law, Clinical Psychologist, NHS, Brighton & Hove
  19. Erasmo Tacconelli, Psychologist, NHS, London
  20. Danielle King, Clinical Psychologist, NHS, Saint Leonards-on-sea
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