Who knows what lies in store for the men who received a last-minute reprieve from being shipped thousands of miles across the globe to Rwanda.
The UK government still wants to press ahead: Priti Patel pronounced herself disappointed. But have no doubt, Tuesday night’s botched attempt – halted after a legal injunction from the European court of human rights – is a watershed moment: in government policymaking, in the country’s global standing and for our collective moral compass.
It’s been a tale of numbers. Up to 130 people were initially notified they could be removed. On Friday, the high court heard that 31 people were due on the first flight. On Tuesday night, seven were due to be flown to Rwanda from a military airport in Wiltshire.
But this is not about a tally: behind every individual we see in our daily work at the Refugee Council, there’s a harrowing story of upheaval, war, persecution and personal tragedy. From the teenager whose relatives have been killed, to the young man who is at risk for joining an opposition party, to the mother whose city has been bombed, or the journalist who has received death threats from a new regime – each one has a good reason to flee.
Somehow, we have forgotten something that many of our grandparents learned during the second world war. When we ignore the human rights of those less fortunate than us, and the vital global warning system which refugees represent, we can no longer be proud of ourselves or confident in our world. The government has blatantly disregarded the UN refugee convention, which Britain helped draft in 1951, and of which we were a founding signatory.
It’s also a huge step backwards in the long and controversial history of UK immigration policy. Patel called the Rwanda agreement “groundbreaking” – but it is so for all the wrong reasons. Our government has never before sought to evade its responsibilities so completely, by shipping people seeking safety in this country off to another jurisdiction.
It’s more extreme even than the Australian near-equivalent, when refugees were detained on Nauru and Manus Island, because we are not merely offshoring, but the entire delivery of our asylum system to another state. Quite apart from the well-documented concerns over Rwanda being a safe country, the principle is also deeply wrong. The vast majority of refugees (86%) stay in countries bordering their own. This is just another way in which we are shifting the responsibilities we should share, away from richer countries, on to the global south.
It’s also a terrible blow to our international role and standing. With this policy, so-called “global Britain” is signalling a withdrawal from efforts to seek multilateral solutions to major global challenges.
And for what? Boris Johnson says shipping people to Rwanda will tackle people smugglers and deter men, women and children from risking their lives in flimsy vessels to cross the Channel from France. But even the top civil servant at the Home Office was unable to say this awful solution will act as a deterrent.
We know the reality. Desperate people have continued to cross the Channel in greater numbers than last year, because of the different crises from which they are escaping. Asked why they want to come to the UK in particular, they often cite family ties, knowing the language, and the poor treatment they receive from police and authorities in other countries they have passed through. A very small proportion end up in the UK – many European countries take in more refugees, and our contribution is tiny when compared with other countries such as Pakistan, Uganda, Lebanon, and now – thanks to the war in Ukraine – Poland.
And we know the solutions. We must look at the reasons people are forced from their homes. The vast cost of removing one person to Rwanda could be far better spent on improving hundreds of lives.
We must also work with other countries in Europe to develop a humane response. We should create safe routes for refugees, so that far fewer have to make dangerous journeys. One simple way is through extending family reunion rights, but instead the government is taking these away from people seeking asylum. Another is putting in place humanitarian visas. We don’t need immoral, chaotic flights. We need to focus on creating a fair, orderly and humane asylum system.
Time after time, our asylum system counts the numbers, but fails to see the faces of very terrified and vulnerable people. Last night, as British ministers looked away from the tarmac, it took the European court of human rights to see those faces and to act with humanity. A country that seeks to abandon compassion is in very bleak territory.
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( Information from theguardian.com was used in this report. To Read More, click here )