Royal Courts of Justice protest Royal Courts of Justice protest. Photo: Peter Bird

Peter Bird reports from the protest against the Tory plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda outside the Royal Courts of Justice

Today saw a day of protest across the country about the government’s plan to transport asylum seekers to Rwanda. It was called to coincide with the start of a five day hearing in The Royal Court of Justice to determine whether the policy is lawful.

The court action was brought by the union PCS and Care for Calais and today’s protest was supported by twelve other unions, the TUC, and Stand Up To Racism.

In London, the people who packed into the area in front of the Royal Court of Justice formed a passionate, defiant and upbeat crowd. There was singing, poetry, chanting, and drumming. A few counter demonstrators, who attempted to be disruptive, were dismissed as low lives by Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union, when he took the stage.

“We can unite the interests of the often overworked, stressed, and under-paid staff in the Home Office with those who are the real victims of this policy, who flee torture and murder and oppression and come to Britain to be treated with compassion. We want to live in a world where we recognise that human beings wherever they are from, wherever they live, deserve to be treated with compassion and dignity and love.”

He went on to talk about the cost of the proceedings:

“There are certain things you can’t put a price on…..this case could be very, very expensive but nobody can judge, in terms of pounds and pence, the importance of challenging this government in what has to be one of the most despicable policies that they are trying to force through. But this is not just a legal case. We’ve seen direct action, protest, picket lines and solidarity, showing refugees that there are people in this country who care about them.”

He then mentioned the direct action, taken some time ago in Glasgow to prevent asylum seekers being forcibly removed (there have been other such actions since, notably in south London).

“We want to win the legal case but we also want to campaign, not just to stop the Rwandan deportations, but for a humane system where people can come to this country and be treated properly, looked after and be cared for in a way all people deserve. We are the world’s sixth richest country and we can do better than this.”

Kevin Courtney, NEU general secretary, said his members, being teachers, are working with asylum seeking children every day to integrate them into this country and into the educational system. They work closely with Care for Calais and often spend half term helping in Calais. He called the policy which is being challenged the most inhumane for decades:

“It will stoke up racism in this country as well as at the border. It’s impossible to think that you can have that policy at the border without it spilling over. The low lives Mark spoke of will be walking around the streets saying to black and brown people get back to Rwanda where you should be. It will stimulate all of that.”

He refuted the notion that the Rwanda policy will stop desperate people from making the hazardous trip.

Garry Younge, the journalist, spoke of how important it is that the government can’t do this and say that nobody objected. It was clear that we were here and did speak out against this abomination. He reflected on what else was going on: the fuel prices, the inflation, the cost of living crisis, the antics of the Boris Johnson government. The government, he said, look for a distraction:

“But we know is wasn’t the refugees that crashed the economy, it wasn’t them that we had to bail out like the banks, it isn’t the refugees who are putting up the energy prices, it’s not refugees who are making away like the bandits of the oil and gas industry. The enemy doesn’t come in a boat or the bottom of a plane, the enemy comes in a limousine. The best way to stop people having to flee wars, economic and environmental degradation is for our country to stop starting wars, and to stop causing the devastation.”

Andrea Egan, Unison president, pointed out that the arrangement with Rwanda doesn’t come cheap; it would cost less to put all the refugees up in the Ritz Hotel.

Jeremy Corbyn said no parent would put their children in a small boat to cross the water unless they were very desperate. You can’t just blame traffickers, blame the system. He mentioned the severe doubts about the suitability of Rwanda but anyway said:

“We have no business outsourcing our obligations to provide a place of safety, comfort and security to those seeking asylum… The number coming to Britain are quite small, the number coming to Europe is relatively small. It’s the poorest countries in the poorest parts of the world that are welcoming, housing, and feeding the majority of the 70 million refugees around the world. We have to campaign for a world of peace, and a world of justice.”

The court case goes on all week. The need for campaigning and direct action will no doubt go on for longer.

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