Few people in Britain would be able to quickly find Rwanda on the world map. Most would probably only associate this small country with the 1994 massacre of at least 800,000 people during the 100-day genocide against the Tutsi ethnic minority and politically moderate Hutus and Twa who resisted the violence. Thirty years later, this landlocked republic in central and eastern Africa, home to a little over 14 millionis making headlines again as a lame-duck Conservative government in the UK struggles to implement a bizarre and expensive policy this would transport rejected migrants and failed asylum seekers more than 4,000 miles to Rwanda.
Condemned by the Jesuit Refugee Service United Kingdom As a cruel plan that undermines human dignity, this policy allows for the deportation to Rwanda of people who come to the UK in search of safety. The controversial plan, which is opposed by other parties, civil society organizations and the British public, has been repeatedly blocked in court and more recently by Parliaments House of Lords.
Expulsions to Rwanda suddenly emerged as a serious policy proposition in April 2022, articulated for the first time in a five-year government plan, the Partnership for Migration and Economic Development. The policy, originally dreamed up by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, proposes to deport asylum seekers deemed to have arrived in the UK via illegal routes and without any legal right to stay. Under the plan, these deportees would be sent by chartered plane to Rwanda, where their applications would be processed. They would be expected to settle in Rwanda, not the UK, if their refugee claim was successful.
Condemned by the UK Jesuit Refugee Service as a cruel plan that undermines human dignity, the policy allows for the deportation to Rwanda of people who come to the UK in search of safety.
The policy therefore outsourced both the people and the process to a distant third country. The first deportation flight, a 767 chartered for £500,000 to carry just seven deportees, was scheduled for June 2022. But the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg issued a last-minute injunction on June 15, and the flight reportedly lined up to take off from a military airfield in Wiltshire, United Kingdom, did not take off.
Liam Allmark, JRS-UK senior spokesperson, said America that his organization resolutely opposes the cruel plan to forcibly transfer people seeking refuge here to Rwanda. This undermines human dignity and deprives us of our responsibility to ensure the safety of those who have been forced to leave their homes because of war, poverty or persecution.
Mr Allmark added: “We must take responsibility for considering the applications of people seeking asylum here and give people a chance to rebuild their lives in the UK. Like other policies rooted in performative cruelty toward refugees, this plan is extremely costly and impractical. If this were ever passed, it would destroy lives.
Although the plan has not yet been rolled out, he said, “The damage has already been done.” The very threat of deportation causes deep trauma for many refugees, while attacks on the right to seek asylum become commonplace in political discourse. As a society, we can and must do better.
In 2023, almost 30,000 illegal migrants arrived in the UK on boats crossing the English Channel, a significant drop compared to the 2022 total of 45,755the highest number recorded since figures began being collected in 2018. A government immigration official told BBC News that the 36 percent drop in 2023 was likely an aberrationexplaining that the government expects these figures to increase significantly in 2024.
The Rwandan plan, developed above all to save the conservative party, is not appreciated by far-right conservatives (too soft) and moderate centrists (too hard).
Britain is far from the only Western state to experience political and social storms linked to immigration, but the issue has dominated political discourse and electoral strategies there. Increasing numbers of migrants are reaching the UK by crossing the Channel in small boats, with their risky passage to and from the Channel made easier by gangs of unscrupulous smugglers. Designed to charge large sums of money to illegal migrants, criminal human trafficking networks are increasingly targeted by British law enforcement, with some success.
The long and rugged coastline of the south-east of England makes it easier for traffickers to escape. Yet, contrary to the rhetoric of much of the media and the populist emphasis that has seeped to some extent into popular consciousness, Britain is not the primary destination for most people asking asylum in Europe.
Germany accepted many more immigrants, including providing shelter to more than a million refugees from Ukraine since the start of Russian President Vladimir Putin's illegal aggression. Syrian and Afghan refugees have also received a warmer welcome in Germany, although opposition to migrants has become increasingly vocal, especially among the far right.
The attraction of Great Britain for some migrants, according to the International Red Cross, is often the hope of reuniting with family members already legally settled in the United Kingdom. Many contemporary refugee-producing countries were part of the former British Empire. As a result, many illegal migrants have a knowledge of the English language that they hope will make it easier for them to rebuild shattered lives in a new country.
For almost a year, Stop the Boats has been the slogan of British conservative politicians seeking to mobilize their base. Now embattled Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is using that slogan to save his job and salvage his party's increasingly bleak electoral fortunes. A Scottish newspaper discovered the origin of the slogans: Ten years ago, under similar anti-immigrant circumstances, this program was widely deployed during the Australian general election.
Contrary to the rhetoric of much of the media and the populist emphasis which has, to some extent, seeped into popular consciousness, Britain is not the primary destination for most people asking asylum in Europe.
Under the UK's electoral laws, Mr Sunak's Conservative Party must visit the country, sponsoring a national vote by this time next year. He gave up broad indications that he is planning a fall general election.
Mr Sunak knows his party is far from united and therefore in electoral peril. Right-wing deputies, all in favor of what they see as well as tough measures against refugees and asylum seekersmust be appeased and kept on board, as the Conservative Party is rather fond of dismiss the leaders. Mr Sunak believes Rwanda's deportation policy is a way of fending off succession plotters, and in 2023 he announced stopping the boats as one of his goals. five priorities for the government.
But last year, opponents of the project turned to legal strategies to question the validity of claims that Rwanda is safe as a third country. The retired head of the British armed forces, Brigadier Sir Richard Dannatt, for example, attacked the plan saying that Rwanda still lives under the shadow of genocide.
The highest court in the United Kingdom ruled in November 2023 that the Rwandan plan failed the test of non-refoulement. A fundamental principle of international law relating to human rights and the protection of refugees, non-refoulement guarantees that asylum seekers will not be returned to a country where they would be in danger. The judges ruled that Rwanda could not guarantee respect for the principle of non-refoulement or prevent the violation of the human rights of those expelled.
Fighting to save the Rwanda plan, British Conservative Party lawmakers have since attempted to write into law what could not be accepted by the British courts, legislation that would simply declare Rwanda to be a safe country.
This through-the-looking-glass proposal will also add a veneer of legality to the circumvention of another adverse legal decision, from the Council of Europe's Court of Human Rights, as well as in defiance of the International Refugee Convention. There is a touch of irony that the same right-wing factions of the Conservative Party that withdrew the United Kingdom from the European Union are now furious at the decision of the Court of Human Rights, a body judicial created for the first time with support from conservative icon Winston Churchill.
Mr Sunak's government managed to get the bill through the House of Commons, but not the House of Lords. The drama of deportation continues. Recently, British media revealed that the government granted asylum to four refugees from Rwanda, ironically recognizing how dangerous the very country they believe can accommodate deportees crossing the Channel.
It was not public outcry, nor even legal action at the highest levels, that led to this horrific impasse over Rwanda's expulsions. There is some public concern, often fueled by right-wing and generally misinformed media, about the number of people reaching British shores in an attempt to rebuild devastated lives; In Scotland, by contrast, there appears to be an awareness among native-born citizens of the need for immigration to promote future prosperity.
The Rwandan plan, developed above all to save the conservative party, is not appreciated by far-right conservatives (too soft) and moderate centrists (too hard). But it is likely to be a central issue in the next UK general election, whenever one is called.
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