The government announced last week the introduction of a ‘migration and economic development partnership’ with Rwanda. Translated, this means the British taxpayer will pay Rwanda to take our asylum seekers 4000 miles away – out of sight and out of mind.
Not only is this policy inhumane but it’s patently ineffective, making it doubly indefensible. It amounts to an attack on the rights of those fleeing persecution and war to seek refuge in this country.
One of the main justifications given to this obscene policy is that it will reduce the current cost of the UK asylum system, which currently spends £4.7 million on housing migrants in hotels every day. Rather than a simple solution of improving the efficiency of applications or reducing dependency by allowing asylum seekers to work, the government is shipping desperate people halfway across the world.
It is hard to believe that a £120 million pay-off to Rwanda and funding ‘the delivery of asylum operations, accommodation and integration’ would be any less expensive than the current system. In fact it has been estimated that the cost of Australia’s offshore processing centres in Papua New Guinea and Nauru are US$2.5m per year per asylum seeker, which, as Andrew Mitchell MP pointed out, is more expensive than housing them in the Ritz.
It’s a tough competition, but I would argue that the most blatant lie Boris Johnson has told since being in Parliament was his statement ‘Let’s be clear, Rwanda is one of the safest countries in the world, globally recognised for its record on welcoming and integrating migrants’.
This is patently untrue. In 2018, police fired live ammunition on refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo, 60 refugees protesting over cuts in their food rations were arrested in less than four months, and the EU concluded that there were ‘continued reports of serious violations of civil and political rights’. Only last year the UK government itself criticised Rwanda for its lack of ‘media freedom’, ‘respect for human rights’ and ‘support to human trafficking victims’, arguably important aspects of a country to which we intend to send our most vulnerable.
By removing asylum seekers from the UK they won’t have the same access to lawyers, journalists and charities who can address human rights abuses. Australia’s offshore processing centres have been littered with rights violations, only coming to light through the leaked Nauru files. 2,116 incident reports were filed from offshore detention centres between May 2013 and October 2015, with 51.3 per cent of these incidents involving children. These included reports of assault, sexual assault, self harm, and abusive behaviour.
Given the experiences of those in Australia, we cannot knowingly send our asylum seekers to suffer a similar fate.
Not only will this policy lead to human rights abuses but it is also unlikely to reduce channel crossings. There is no evidence that, prior to arrival, asylum seekers have access to reliable information about the rights granted in their destination country. In fact, the harder it is to reach the UK, the more asylum seekers will have to rely on criminal gangs and people smugglers.
The OECD reported that ‘for refugees, one of the only available options to curb demand (for people smugglers) seems to be, at least in the short term, to offer more – and quicker – resettlement options’. The deterrent of being sent to Rwanda won’t stop people from arriving in the UK, it will just stop people from making formal asylum applications when they get here. The end result will be a growing population of isolated people without access to necessary services, vulnerable to exploitation, and with no legal way to earn an income.
The failing asylum process is a government-caused issue. There were just over half the number of applications in 2021 as there were in 2002, placing the UK 14th out of EU countries in terms of asylum applications per capita. As the second largest economy in Europe it’s quite frankly shameful that we are unable to process them ourselves. In 2019, only 28 per cent were refused, meaning it’s highly likely that under this proposed scheme, we’ll be sending people who have fled home countries in fear of persecution to a country rife with human rights abuses.
The government’s approach to asylum seekers falls flat when judging its practicality or effectiveness, but I find it disappointing that the debate has to go further than basic compassion. From working in a refugee charity I have seen the human effects of the UK’s asylum system first hand. These are people who have fled their home country, often without family, made treacherous journeys, and all they want is a peaceful existence with a basic standard of living. I don’t think they’re asking for too much.