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Why ‘Homes for Ukraine’ but banishment for everyone else?

Migrant boat spotted in the English Channel on a day multiple boats attempted the crossing, 11 September 2020 [Alamy]

3 min read

Whatever your views about people crossing the Channel to seek asylum in the UK, we can agree that the 70 per cent of those people who are recognised as refugees have overcome enormous dangers to reach the UK.

They have escaped brutal wars and persecution by despots. They have suffered exploitation and trafficking, travelling thousands of miles by road, rail and on foot in the hope of rebuilding their lives in our communities. Many have made that perilous journey to reunite with family members already settled here. Many of those people arrive, understandably, deeply traumatised or physically ill from that lengthy ordeal.

Those people, who make up around 3 per cent of the people moving to the UK each year, deserve to be treated with dignity, compassion and respect. That is why the Home Secretary’s inhumane and unlawful scheme to send people seeking asylum to Rwanda is so deeply concerning.

Why ‘Homes for Ukraine’ but banishment for everyone else? How do we start to explain to an Afghan client currently in detention that they are at risk of removal to Rwanda?

Unlike many of the controversial proposals in the nationality and borders legislation, the Home Secretary has revealed very little about her plans to send people seeking asylum offshore. She claims the plan will deter people from seeking asylum in the UK, then lauds the benefits of resettlement in Rwanda. Both of these things can’t be true. The Home Office permanent secretary has warned Priti Patel that: “Evidence of a deterrent effect is highly uncertain and cannot be quantified with sufficient certainty.”

The plan would allow women, children and many more of the world’s most marginalised and traumatised people to be sent offshore

Even now, after an initial sum of £120m has been paid to the Rwandan government, MPs and the public are still being kept in the dark. The Home Secretary has refused to reveal: who is eligible for transfer to Rwanda; how they will be treated upon arrival; how their asylum claims will be processed; and how much this elaborate arrangement will ultimately cost the public.

As things stand, the plan would allow women, children and many more of the world’s most marginalised and traumatised people to be sent offshore.

In response, the House of Lords amended the Nationality and Borders Bill twice so the Home Secretary would at the very least be required to present full details of the plan to both Houses, in order to receive the necessary powers. Unfortunately, this amendment was rejected and parliamentary ping-pong ensued.

Of all the places to send people offshore, Priti Patel has selected a country that produces its own refugees, some of whom have been granted protection in the UK. The Rwandan government has a disturbing record of intimidating, imprisoning and even assassinating its critics.

In 2018, Rwandan police shot at Congolese refugees who were protesting at a reduction in food rations, killing at least 12 people. We also have specific concerns about the fate of LGBT+ people. Trans identities are criminalised and LGBT+ people face discrimination and unlawful detention by the authorities, including beatings and inhumane conditions in its many secretive detention centres.

The Home Secretary has accused her opponents of failing to offer any alternative policies to the issue of people seeking asylum via the Channel. Many evidence-based solutions have been proposed, including humanitarian visas, to create a safe route to the UK and to undermine the business model of the smuggling gangs. This policy was tabled as an amendment by a group of backbench MPs with Labour, Liberal Democrat, Green and SNP support last November.

With so little revealed about her plan for offshore processing in Rwanda, it is the Home Secretary who is failing to provide a convincing solution.

Bella Sankey is director at Detention Action

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