Boris Johnson and Priti Patel Boris Johnson and Priti Patel. Photo: Tim Hammond / Number 10 / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, license linked below article

The movement must rise to the challenge to stop Boris Johnson and Priti Patel’s racist and inhumane “offshoring” of refugees, writes Yonas Makoni

Just in time to deflect from the latest wave of corruption scandals, the government has announced a new scheme to send asylum seekers to Rwanda. The purpose of the £120 million deal is ostensibly to crack down on and break the business model of “vile people smugglers”. Of course, the government has always complained about refugees crossing the Channel ‘illegally’ and has devised a whole series of increasingly hare-brained schemes to combat this. However, this new plan – modeled on similar schemes by Israel, Australia and Denmark – takes the cruelty to a new level.

The refugees will initially be accommodated in guest houses with a capacity of 100 people each, with 12 toilets and five showers. They will be given a small room of 12 x 12 feet, with two people per room. While it is as yet unknown whether the asylum seekers will be under UK jurisdiction, the human rights record of the Rwandan government is questionable and the 2020 UN Human Rights Report reported issues such as unlawful killings, forced disappearances, arbitrary detention and “harsh and life-threatening conditions in some detention facilities”.

The claim that this is a compassionate move to stop people smugglers is absurd on its face. If the government really wanted to stop people smugglers, it would be creating safe passages for entry as it has done with Ukrainian refugees. There is vast evidence that so-called deterrence tactics simply do not work on people who have risked their lives to escape persecution and only force refugees to take more dangerous routes. As such, rather than “break their business model”, this scheme only risks empowering people smugglers even more.

The treatment of Ukrainian refugees has made it clear that arguments about Britain not having capacity for more people or how expensive it is to resettle vulnerable people are unfounded – indeed, as many have noted, the scheme will cost more than processing asylum claims in the UK. Similarly, the solidarity shown by ordinary people towards Ukrainians – which the government has cynically tried to exploit to promote its own jingoism – goes against the myth that the majority of people are naturally hostile to supporting refugees – quite the opposite.

The Tories are trying to stoke up racist divisions by creating a distinction between refugees, making some legal and others illegal, scapegoating them for their failures on the soaring cost of living and as a means of distraction from the fact that the Prime Minister and Chancellor have been found guilty of committing a crime while in office. We cannot let them get away with it.

The government has tried to give itself legal cover (at least domestically) through a provision allowing offshoring in the Nationality and Borders Bill which is currently going between the Lords and the Commons. While the government has announced this plan despite the bill not becoming law yet, and knowing it would likely still be illegal under international law, opposition to the bill is an opportunity to force the government to reverse this inhumane policy - the movement against the bill and in defence of refugees must now rise to the challenge.

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