Open letter to the UK Prime Minister condemns the Safety of Rwanda Act

Unseen has joined 27 signatories across the anti-slavery sector, including survivors of modern slavery and other NGOs, in writing an open letter to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, urging the UK Government to reverse the new Safety of Rwanda Act.
Plane taking off into the sunset. Symbolic to the passing of the UK 2024 Safety of Rwanda Act.

We are deeply concerned with the passing of the Rwanda Bill on 22 April 2024.

Officially becoming law on 25 April 2024 after it received royal assent, this new legislation, now known as the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Act, raises serious concerns for the safety and wellbeing of survivors of modern slavery who are forced to enter the UK via irregular means. 

Yet, despite repeated warnings from anti-slavery experts about its potential negative impact, the Act was passed without any consultation with the very sector most familiar with the complexities of modern slavery and the needs of survivors. 

In response, Unseen, alongside 27 other anti-slavery organisations, has written an open letter to UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak expressing our deep concern.

The letter calls for Government to instead work with experts to develop a humane and truly effective anti-slavery strategy. Read our letter below. 

What is the Safety of Rwanda Act?

The Safety of Rwanda Act is part of a wider government strategy aimed at deterring irregular migration.

Under the Act, victims of modern slavery arriving by small boats will now be detained, denied access to vital support services, and deported to Rwanda. 

The Act has been met with widespread condemnation from anti-slavery groups, who argue it undermines existing protections for survivors of modern slavery. This includes a legal analysis of the then Bill by the Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre.  

Their analysis concluded that the Rwanda Treaty and the Safety of Rwanda Bill violates the UK’s international legal obligations on modern slavery and human trafficking. These obligations fall under the European Convention on Human Rights and the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. 

Similarly, the 2023 US State Department report concluded that Rwanda, a country with a poor track record on human rights, lacks the necessary infrastructure to handle cases of modern slavery effectively.  

Despite these multiple warnings and without addressing any of these serious concerns, on 15 April 2024, the Government rejected calls to exempt victims of modern slavery from the scheme, opting instead for an annual report on the Act’s impact. 

How does the Safety of Rwanda Act endanger survivors of modern slavery?

The Safety of Rwanda Act turns a blind eye to the desperate circumstances that force vulnerable survivors of modern slavery to enter the UK in small boats. Unseen has witnessed the heartbreaking reality – countless survivors who have already endured unimaginable hardship, endure further years of exploitation in the UK. 

With no safe and legal routes available, they become easy prey for traffickers who target and coerce them into a life of servitude, using deportation threats as a method of control. 

The Act not only disregards these complex realities but creates a breeding ground for further exploitation. It opens the door for traffickers to use deportation to Rwanda as another tool to control and exploit their victims. 

Andrew Wallis, CEO of Unseen, says: “Linking modern slavery and immigration control is harmful.  

“The Rwandan Act weakens protections for refugees and slavery survivors, making it harder to identify them, access support, and avoid exploitation. Deterrence policies won’t stop human trafficking and punishing survivors is deeply problematic.” 

Adding to the urgency, The Guardian has claimed that the Home Office plans to begin a two-week operation to detain asylum seekers, including vulnerable survivors of modern slavery, across the UK, weeks earlier than expected, in preparation for deportation to Rwanda.  

These individuals will be placed in overcrowded detention centres, with little to no time to access legal support or process the trauma they’ve already endured. They’ll be held there until they’re forcibly deported to Rwanda.

This expedited process guarantees they will miss out on critical support services they desperately need to recover from their ordeal and rebuild their lives. 

The Safety of Rwanda Act threatens survivors of modern slavery. Unseen and 27 charities urge the UK government to reconsider. Split image with left side containing the logos of all charity signatories. Right side is a picture of UK Parliament.
The anti-slavery sector’s open letter

Unseen, alongside other anti-slavery organisations, has written an open letter to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak urging a reversal of the Act.

The letter calls for a more effective anti-slavery strategy that prioritises the safety and wellbeing of modern slavery survivors. 

Read our full letter below.

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Justine Currell

As I came to understand more about the issue, including through a visit to an Unseen safehouse, I knew I needed to do more to stop this abuse and exploitation.

For the last five years of my Civil Service career, I was the Modern Slavery Senior Policy Advisor in the Home Office and led on development of the Modern Slavery Act, including the transparency in supply chains provision and business guidance.

I joined Unseen to lead the development of the Modern Slavery & Exploitation Helpline, and Unseen’s work with businesses. I am regularly called upon to present at national and international conferences and use my experience of working with Ministers to influence other governments internationally to take action to address modern slavery and, in particular, business supply chain issues.

In my spare time I enjoy keeping fit, music, reading and travelling.

Andrew Wallis

What ultimately compelled me to act was a report on how people from Eastern Europe were being trafficked through Bristol airport to the USA. Kate Garbers, who went on to be an Unseen Director, and I wrote to all the city councillors, MPs and the Police Chief Constable challenging them on the issue. The challenge came back to us: this city needs safe housing for trafficked women. And so Unseen began.

But we never wanted Unseen to be just about safe housing. We wanted to end slavery once and for all, and that remains our driving focus.

I chaired the working group for the Centre for Social Justice’s landmark report “It Happens Here: Equipping the United Kingdom to Fight Modern Slavery”. This is now acknowledged as the catalyst behind the UK’s Modern Slavery Act of 2015. It was a great honour to be awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours that year. On the other hand, I’ve also been described as “the loveliest disrupter you could ever hope to meet”.

This job has taken me from building flat-pack furniture for safehouses, to working with businesses to address slavery in supply chains, to delivering training, raising awareness and advising governments around the world.

When not at work, I enjoy travelling, spending time with my dog Harley, cooking, supporting Liverpool and Yorkshire CC, music (I’m a former DJ) and endurance events such as the Three Peaks Challenge and Tribe Freedom Runs – which I vow never to do again. Until the next time.