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Rwanda is an ‘open prison’ say Eelam Tamil refugees

A group of Eelam Tamil refugees who have been transferred to Rwanda by the British government have told the BBC that the country is an “open prison”, complaining of sexual harassment and isolation.  

The four who spoke to the BBC were sent to Rwanda from Diego Garcia over a year ago, and were part of a larger group of Tamils who fled persecution in Sri Lanka. They were all sent to the African country for medical treatment after suicide attempts in the remote British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT).

“We don’t go outside,” one of the group said. “We’re always scared.”

They described sexual harassment and even instances where the apartments they are being housed in had attempted break-ins.

Lawyers for the group had raised the issues with BIOT authorities who had not “substantively responded”.

The latest from the BBC comes after a report in The New Humanitarian earlier this year described how one of the Tamils sent to Rwanda was sexually assaulted by a nurse at the Rwanda Military Hospital, while receiving treatment following a suicide attempt.

The BBC said that “neither the Conservatives nor Labour would comment on the fate of the Diego Garcia migrants in Rwanda or what they would seek to do with them if they win the election”.

The Labour Party has said it would scrap UK plans to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.

The Liberal Democrats told the BBC that cases of Tamils in Rwanda was “deeply concerning” and needed to be “properly investigated”.

Green Party co-leader Carla Denyer has described the Rwanda plan as “punitive” and “inhumane”.

Meanwhile Reform UK leader Nigel Farage said he did not think it was “terribly practical,” to use British Overseas Territories to process asylum seekers’ claims, contrary to his party’s policy.

Read more from the BBC here.

A total of 61 asylum seekers are being held on Diego Garcia and are waging a tedious legal battle to claim asylum.

Their harrowing experience began in October 2021, when boat carrying the Eelam Tamils, who had fled from refugee camps in Madurai and Thiruchirapally in India, had to be rescued at sea and brought to Diego Garcia. The refugees were since held in prison-like conditions Diego Garcia, which is a collection of islands is run from London by a Commissioner appointed by the King.

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