Boris Johnson and Priti Patel's planned deportation of asylum seekers to Rwanda has been stopped, but the fight to scrap the policy altogether continues, writes Terina Hine
Cancelled, the 21:30 flight to Rwanda. A last minute legal intervention followed protests at the Home Office, at the airport, at detention centres and at the carriers headquarters, successfully putting a stop to the first, and hopefully last, deportation flight to Rwanda.
Early Tuesday evening, the European Court of Human Rights began emergency hearings; one by one the judge ruled in favour of the asylum seekers. By 10pm the flight was empty. Victory for humanity, humiliation for the government.
The first £500,000 deportation flight to Rwanda was supposed to leave Britain on Tuesday even if it had only one deportee on aboard, government ministers said only hours before it was cancelled. Gesture politics at its most grotesque.
But although the flight was stopped the policy remains intact. Our fight must go on.
Farming out refugees with a one way ticket to Rwanda was a policy introduced by a government lurching madly to the right, hoping to distract from its lack of strategy and polling difficulties. It also marked a new low in years of racism emanating from the Home Office - from the Windrush scandal to Theresa May’s Go Home vans.
The UN high commissioner on refugees, Filippo Grandi, said the Rwanda policy “violates the fundamental principles of refugees”. It is a policy which has united in opposition the entire leadership of the Church of England, Prince Charles, the Labour Party and the left. It is a policy that anyone with a shred of humanity or the vaguest moral compass cannot help but oppose.
Initially ministers planned for 130 people to be on Tuesday’s flight. Following successful legal challenges, by Tuesday morning less than seven were expected to be on board, by lunchtime this had fallen to four; an empty plane indicative of the empty vessels who devised the scheme.
The £120 million, five-year agreement with Rwanda is designed as a deterrence against illegal people smuggling, yet the scheme itself involves transporting the most vulnerable people on the planet thousands of miles in complete disregard of international law. Those notified of deportation have limited recall to law: permitted only seven days to present their case before removal instructions are issued, after which they have just five days to submit any appeal. Justice hurried clearly intended to be justice denied.
The Home Office claimed refugees have nothing to fear. Rwanda is a good place and the UN was closely involved in the programme. But Rwanda has a dubious record on human rights, and according to the UN they have not been involved at any point. In fact UNHCR said the plan failed to meet standards of “legality and appropriateness” for the transporting of asylum seekers.
Much of the recent debate over refugees has focussed on distinctions between refugees and economic migrants. But this programme does not distinguish, its victims are people who have yet to be categorised. They are asylum seekers, who are being deported based on how they arrived in the country, not on the merit of their asylum case. Until now there has been no legal requirement as to how a person must travel to claim asylum - here or anywhere else in the world.
Roughly 62% of asylum seekers enter the UK by so called irregular means, the majority are eventually granted asylum. These are people fleeing wars, often of our making, or civil wars left in the wake of Western foreign policy. They are traumatised and many are minors. They travel by “irregular means” because no other option is available. These are people who are often victims of people traffickers; with this policy its the victims who are being punished.
But this scheme was never really about solving people trafficking. If the government really wanted to break the trafficking gangs they would establish legal routes. Instead security at the border gets tighter, and ways to claim asylum are reduced, pushing people further and further into the arms of the smugglers.
No, this is a policy designed as part of a culture war by a party in trouble and devoid of ideas. So we have the Prime Minister falsely accusing “lefty lawyers” of “abetting criminal gangs” simply for doing their jobs, and suggesting Britain should pull out of the European Convention on Human Rights to force through Rwanda deportations. After this latest judgement there will be more of this. Boris Johnson and his Tory enablers will stop at nothing to cling onto power, the hostile environment is back with a vengeance.
On Tuesday evening protesters lay in the road at the airfield to prevent the deportations, and the European Court of Human Rights granted an injunction pulling each asylum seeker from the flight. This inhumane policy is falling apart before it begins. Keep fighting and we will have more victories.
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