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Dystopian plan to offshore refugees to Rwanda will do nothing to fix our failing asylum system

Dystopian plan to offshore refugees to Rwanda will do nothing to fix our failing asylum system
4 min read

It takes some effort to be both inhumane and incompetent. That, however, has become Boris Johnson and Priti Patel’s calling card.

Whether it is ridiculous wind machine plans in the Channel, bungled threats against the RNLI or the ongoing embarrassment that is our Ukrainian refugee policy, our Prime Minister and Home Secretary cannot even act on their cruelty in a competent way.

So it has proven again with today’s announcement of a dystopian proposal to greet every person who crosses the Channel – the majority of whom have valid claims for asylum – by flying them to Rwanda at taxpayer expense.

The policy itself is wilfully ludicrous, to the point where I suspect that even discussing it seriously may be giving it too much credence. But discuss it we must, because in its own way it says a great deal about how this government and this Prime Minister operate – by taking struggling human beings and turning them into political headlines to deflect from their own law-breaking. People who cannot follow the law themselves, telling us all sternly what they will do to others whose only crime is to seek help here.

It is depressingly predictable for Boris Johnson to distract from his law-breaking by announcing plans to mistreat refugees

Let us be clear – this is the Prime Minister of our country, a man who has broken the laws he expected the rest of us to follow, now using vulnerable people as a political tool to save his own skin. It is depressingly predictable for Boris Johnson to distract from his law-breaking by announcing plans to mistreat refugees. We must not accept it.

Even if you believe in a “tough line” on refugees, the logistics involved here ought to give you pause. We are talking about flying thousands of people, every year, halfway across the planet to an authoritarian regime in Rwanda (with its own questions to answer about human rights issues) – and all at eyewatering expense to you and me.

The “trial” of this scheme alone will cost £120m and might transport less than a hundred people if implemented. An estimate – by a Conservative MP no less – of the cost to implement Australia-style offshoring for all UK asylum seekers who arrived in 2021 was no less than £32bn. As former Tory Minister Andrew Mitchell put it, it would literally be cheaper to put each new arrival in the Ritz Hotel and send all the under-18s to Eton College than to follow the offshoring model.

We all know that Boris Johnson has expensive tastes. An asylum system that costs even more per person than the Prime Minister’s old private school is taking it a little far, even by his standards.

There is little to no evidence that these proposals would do anything to tackle the real issues at play, whether it is incentives for refugees to come to our shores or the dangerous people smugglers and traffickers who prey on the vulnerable. They would do nothing to remove the immense backlogs of unresolved – usually valid – asylum claims in the system, built up by Home Office failure.

It takes some effort to be both inhumane and incompetent – and yet here we are.

Of course, for all that these proposals are ridiculous and outlandish on both the practicality and the principle, that is probably the point. This is a government chasing headlines and looking for a flash photo of a plane taking off, not meaningful positive action on the boring things that work. We all know that these plans would never actually be implemented for all refugees and asylum seekers, precisely because it would be prohibitively expensive and logistically chaotic.

Today’s announcement has nothing to do with solving the people problem – and everything to do with partygate.

You might think that there would be a cheaper way for Boris Johnson to distract from his latest law-breaking scandal than spending £120m of our money on far-right gimmicks.

But as we have learned to our cost over the past months, the rules are for the little people – not for Boris Johnson.


Alistair Carmichael is the Liberal Democrat MP for Orkney and Shetland and Liberal Democrat spokesperson for home affairs. 

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