Protestors sit in to block immigration van in Peckham. Photo: Alistair Cartwright Protestors sit in to block immigration van in Peckham. Photo: Alistair Cartwright

The Home Office has scheduled its first flight to send asylum seekers to Rwanda this Tuesday, 14th June. Alistair Cartwright spoke to one of the activists organising the resistance

Although this has sometimes been referred to as ‘offshore processing’ in fact the flight, if it goes ahead, will mean permanent deportation for the people on board, with no chance to return to the UK. Using this policy Boris Johnson has promised to ‘resettle tens of thousands of people in the years ahead’.

An emergency demonstration has been called for the day before the flight – today, 5.30pm at the Home Office.  It coincides with a Court of Appeal hearing in which human rights lawyers will seek to overturn the recent rejection of their injunction case. It also follows flash protests in Peckham on Friday that saw immigration officers forced to release a local resident they had attempted to detain.

I spoke to Jo Thomas, a member of SOAS Detainee Support who, along with the Solidarity Knows no Border network, have called the emergency protest at the Home Office today.  She explained why this represents such a crucial moment. 

“The Home Office plan to send people to Rwanda represents a shameful escalation in the government’s ongoing targeting of asylum seekers, refugees and migrants. This is a first move in making the policies of the racist Nationality and Borders bill a reality.”   

The racist policies of the NBA follow ten years of the hostile environment: 

“This is both an ideological move for the government and an opportunistic one as they try to distract from their failure to deal with the cost of living crisis amongst many other failures.”

The Nationality and Borders Act seeks to create ‘a two-tier asylum system’, with differential legal, punitive and surveillance measures depending on how you arrived in the UK.

According to this new system, Thomas explains,

“‘Group 1’ asylum seekers will have arrived in the UK via an ‘agreed route’ as part of a resettlement programme (recent resettlement schemes have included the Syrian and Afghan resettlement programmes). However, only a tiny proportion of refugees enter the country via one of these schemes.  The vast majority arrive by what the government insists on calling ‘illegal means’, meaning without prior formal agreement. ‘In terms of international law, there is no such thing as an illegal way to enter a country as a refugee but our government is seeking to change that.”

“It’s these ‘Group 2’ asylum seekers that the new Rwanda deportation flights seek to target. People classified as ‘Group 2’ asylum seekers will be subject to higher standards of proof when their cases are assessed by the Home Office; ‘and if you are successful in becoming a refugee, you’ll have a shorter period of leave to remain, you won’t be able to settle permanently for ten years after arriving, and you won’t have the same rights to family reunion that refugees currently have … and these are just a few of the ways the new system would affect you.”

The new measures represent a reactionary ramping up of racism as well as the policing of physical and legal borders. For all that, they are by no means entirely novel.

“I wouldn’t call this a shift, I would call it a deepening of an existing trajectory. 2022 is the ten-year anniversary of the beginning of the hostile environment, first introduced by the Coalition government. So the idea that how to deal with people fleeing war and conflict is to deter people from coming to the UK is something that’s been happening for the past decade and earlier even, but very intensively since Theresa May’s Home Office policies first came into play. So the Rwanda flights are really an extreme next step in that legacy.”

“People come to the UK because they are hoping to finally find safety, and what the government’s trying to do – which is what’s so shameful – is to ensure that it’s not a safe country for refugees to come to.”

At the same time the planned Rwanda flights ‘constitute something significant in terms of international law’. The government is striving to become a ‘world leader’ in this ‘deterrence’ strategy, ‘and they’re breaking ground that other countries might then seek to use.’

For all these reasons Tuesday’s scheduled deportation flight represents a critical moment:

“It has to be resisted very strongly, and coming out against it at that demo on Monday is one way to do that, but it’s only one way. It has to be a sustained, long term resistance against these policies. I hope we win on Monday, but it’s going to take many victories to end the hostile environment and the NBA.”


Join the protest at 5.30pm at the Home Office, 2 Marsham Street, SW1P 4DF.  

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Alistair Cartwright

Alistair Cartwright is an activist with the Stop the War Coalition and a member of Counterfire.

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