“The so-called Rwanda Plan is a smokescreen for the UK’s abdication of its legal obligation to provide protection. It is not a ‘plan’. It is UK Protection Sham! – a symptom of a profound crisis of democracy, disregard for the rule of law and complete lack of accountability by the elected officials who, at the time of unprecedented economic crisis, are using public funds for irresponsible right-wing electioneering – Zrinka Bralo, Migrants Organise CEO
Although the proposal has been condemned by civil society, faith leaders, royalty and even some right-wing thinktanks on grounds ranging from ethics to the “crippling costs”, the proposal and what it stands for still features strongly as a viable policy pitch by the remaining would be Prime Ministers in the leadership contest.
This is despite the fact that the Home Secretary has been repeatedly warned by civil servants, trade unions, the UN and civil society that this is an unworkable, inhumane, expensive and possibly unlawful policy.
What is in the ‘plan’?
The first flight to Rwanda was stopped on June 14 through legal and direct action. A judicial review into the legality of the government’s plan has been delayed for the 5th of September as the new Prime Minister takes over.
The “plan” was to send to Rwanda a number of people who made their journey across the channel to seek protection in the UK. They came from various countries, including Afghanistan and Syria.
There are several serious issues about this policy that need unpicking.
Crisis of Democracy
The “plan” is regulated by the Memorandum of Understanding, which cannot be enforced, and it is not scrutinised by the Parliament. The avoidance of accountability is an ongoing theme with the government. The Home Secretary’s refusal to attend the Home Affairs Committee meeting to answer MPs’ questions about it further illustrates the disregard for democratic accountability. In her absence, the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, David Neal, a former head of the military police, told the Home Affairs Committee that the Home Secretary had not met him once in the year since he was appointed and did not meet his predecessor a single meeting either during his last year on the job.
Disregard for Fundamental Human Rights
It is difficult to find the precise words to accurately label and describe the depth of egregious disregard for the rule of law and human rights that is the Rwanda Plan.
This is not by chance, as the spin doctors have been working for decades to gaslight the public and misrepresent and scapegoat migrants and refugees for their political gain.
The fabricated fear of immigrants and their dehumanisation through the label ‘illegal’ has been well-documented by research. As Tupac said, “Fear is stronger than love, remember that.”
Through a decade of the Hostile Environment policy, that fear of immigrants has been legitimised and normalised into the set of most illiberal and oppressive policies and violations of fundamental human rights and dignity.
When this plan was announced, many people thought this was an attempt to ‘outsource’ asylum processing. In other words, to send some people seeking protection to Rwanda to stay there while their claims are being examined in the UK. As terrible as this sounds for them, it does also sound like a deterrent. However, in this scenario, there was a chance that some people would be granted protection, and at least those would at some point come back to the UK and join their families and communities.
‘Outsourcing’ sounds awful, but what our Home Secretary has in mind is worse. Much worse. The main feature of this ‘Plan’ is to pay Rwanda to take and forever keep people who entered the UK clandestinely to seek protection from war and persecution. These people are selected purely based on their mode of entry; they are not given any legal advice, their stories are not heard, their humanity is denied, they are detained without judicial oversight, and they are shackled and forced onto the plane to Rwanda. The former Prime Minister thought this was such a great plan that he stole the Home Secretary’s thunder and announced it himself. It makes them look tough on immigration, which always plays well with their base.
The ‘relocation notice’ that people received also sounds relatively innocuous. The government kept talking about the provision of healthcare and hotel-like accommodation for asylum seekers. They provided legitimacy for President Kagame through photo ops with now-former Prime Minister Boris Johnson. All while repeating rather meaningless sound bites about how they will end the ‘trafficking business model’. And of course, as always with the hostile environment and enforcement measures, despite the economic crisis, there always is a magic money tree for immigration enforcement, £120 million for Rwanda to start with.
But this nondescript language, photo ops and sound bites hide a more serious and sinister truth.
The new Nationality and Borders Act is an extension of this onslaught on democracy. As it stands now, one person, the Home Secretary, has the power to remove citizenship from 6 million British citizens who are or might be dual citizens. She does not have to tell them when or why she did it. She can make them stateless. And they do not have a right of appeal.
Being “tough on immigration” is the first point to address here. Like the numbers game, it is an entirely unworkable approach to anything. And yet, politicians across the spectrum think they will solve the ‘problem’ by more enforcement.
The so-called ‘Rwanda Plan’ exposed another egregious aspect of the abuse of power. The government is carelessly throwing money into violent abuse of human rights. The money they tell us we don’t have for our NHS, our schools, our workers.
This was possibly not what most people had in mind when they heard the spin about ‘taking back control’.
The immigration narrative pushed by the government is toxic, divisive and misleading. It has been exposed as profoundly and historically structurally racist by the Windrush Scandal. All the broken promises are already forgotten as the country’s media shift their attention to a long list of other catastrophic news and inane leadership debates.
Much media coverage, as well as good campaigning and advocacy effort, is directed at politics and conditions in Rwanda. The Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights has raised concerns that ‘Rwanda is not sufficiently safe to be a partner in an asylum agreement of this kind’.
As important as it may be to put the spotlight on Rwanda’s state of politics and human rights, to people who came to the UK to seek protection, it makes no difference if they are being ‘relocated’ to Rwanda, France or Narnia.
The point is that there should be no partnership of this kind with any country. The purpose of the international protection system is to receive and protect. The first safe country rule is a recent invention by wealthy and privileged countries trying to avoid their responsibility for refugees, usually displaced by the conflicts caused by the rich and privileged countries.
It is important to focus on the fact that the UK or any other country cannot ‘purchase’ protection services of another government to deliver its legal and international obligations.
The ’numbers game’ closely linked to the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ migrant narrative has also been deployed frequently, leading the debate into the divisive ‘whataboutism’.
Just in the past year, we have seen examples of differential treatment and discourse for different groups of people in need of protection. The scarcity narrative deployed pushes the people affected and their advocates and supporters into disagreements and arguments about entitlements. This is the classic divide and rule strategy deployed by the racist and xenophobic systems and structures and those that benefit from it.
The fact is that no matter how many people arrive from which country, despite the level of public attention or sympathy they get, no matter how ‘good’ they might be for the economy; sooner or later, like the half a million of the Windrush citizens or 4 million EU citizens, or the 6 million dual citizens, they will be subjected to the hostile immigration enforcement. They will have no control over their lives.
This is the problem. The UK does not have a migration policy. It has an immigration enforcement policy, the so-called Hostile Environment policy.
As we face a labour shortage, as more than a million people have left the country in the past two years, we need to move away from enforcement policy, and the opposition parties need to move away from the costs narrative and adopt a progressive, values-based approach to dignity and justice.
This is not just about migrants and refugees. This is about all of us.
One way to understand the implications of this ‘plan’ for all of us is to imagine what else might be next in line for ‘outsourcing’ to help right-wing politicians look tough and even more right-wing. Maybe they will pay another country to ‘outsource’ our incarceration system for some types of crimes? Or what if they decide to ship out or ‘outsource’ some forms of medical treatment or care for the elderly? They could easily do an MoU and bypass the Parliament and the country.
What can we do about it?
Firstly let’s name what is going on here. This is not a ‘plan’ but an abdication of the UK’s responsibility and legal obligations. It is about us, not them – them being refugees and migrants as well as countries willing to be accessories in this inhumane policy. So let’s stop calling it Rwanda Plan – it is UK Protection Sham.
Secondly, let’s ensure that our elected officials respect democracy and are accountable to the Parliament and the people who elected them and pay for them. Write to your MP and raise your concerns about the policy, process, accountability, the rule of law and democracy.
Finally, you can get involved, sign the Fair Immigration Charter and attend the next new joiners meeting and join the growing Solidarity Knows No Borders community of organisers and activists to find how you can get involved locally and nationally and stand up for democracy, the rule of law, dignity and justice for all.