It is easy to express outrage at the UK Government’s plan to illegally rendition asylum seekers 6,000 miles to a country with a poor human rights record and a recent record of mass genocide.
However, you must not discount the possibility that you are supposed to be outraged. It is a possibility that this is all a ruse to distract both you and the headlines, in order to make you think that the fines for breaking lockdown rules and partying whilst people died are somehow yesterday’s news and a minor transgression in comparison. That of course would mean that the Rwandan rendition will never happen as you can’t be forced to resign for something that never happened.
Either way, the Rwandan move signals that the UK state is broken and led by an incompetent, compulsively dishonest, criminal, racist, British nationalist government. A government that does not share the values and common decency of the people of Scotland or the political parties that they choose to represent them in both Westminster and Holyrood.
Within hours of Priti Patel, smirking inappropriately as she announced what amounts to illegal rendition with their plan to send tens of thousands of asylum seekers to Rwanda, the Home Secretary was being lampooned online in pictures with her caricature leaning on a folder marked “Migrant Death Warrants”.
Offshoring migrants has been on the cards since the PM vowed to “take back control” of Britain’s borders following the Brexit vote, a promise that so far has led to nothing but deep falls in exports, 20 mile lorry tailbacks and rapid inflation, but their new rendition plans have been slated as “inhumane”, “unspeakably cruel” and “state sanctioned violence in practice”.
Under the plan, to which Johnson said the UK Government would contribute £120m, migrants will be housed temporarily in mainly hostels or hotels in the Rwandan capital Kigali while their asylum claims are processed. The UN refugee agency has stated that the plans are illegal and that attempting to “shift responsibility” for claims of refugee status was “unacceptable”.
The scheme will be challenged in the courts but criticism and disgust has come from refugee charities, lawyers and the UN refugee agency UNHCR, whose Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Gillian Triggs, said: “People fleeing war, conflict and persecution deserve compassion and empathy. They should not be traded like commodities and transferred abroad for processing.”
Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director for Human Rights Watch, said Rwanda did not respect some of the most basic human rights: “Refugees have been abused in Rwanda and the government has, at times, kidnapped Rwandan refugees outside the country to bring them home to face trial and ill-treatment.”
Johnson said Rwanda was “one of the safest countries in the world”, despite the fact that in 1994 Hutu extremists killed more than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus – genocide that shocked the world. He added that the risk of ending up in Rwanda would prove “a considerable deterrent” over time.
However, his own government, in January last year, delivered a statement on Rwanda at the 37th Session of Universal Periodic Review (UPR), urging Rwanda to model Commonwealth values of democracy, rule of law, and respect for human rights.
Glasgow immigration lawyer Usman Aslam said from breaking their own rules and refusing to resign, we are now faced with a Tory Government who are misleading the public about the realities of the Rwanda scheme, which people deserved to know.
“When Priti Patel said this is a ‘Global first’, it is not at all. Australia were sending asylum seekers offshore to be ‘processed’ for years and even they stopped,” he said. “The UN Special Rapporteur even said the Australian model (that the Tories are obsessed with) was an abusive offshore detention system that ‘cannot be salvaged’ … unjustifiably punitive and unlawful amounting to ‘cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment’.”
Manus in Papua New Guinea and Nauru – 690 and 1800 miles respectively off Cape York – were first used by Australia for offshore immigration detention centres in in 2001, but were blighted by shocking living conditions and a lack of water. Six years later they were mothballed after a farce that saw the overwhelming majority of those detained allowed to be resettled in Australia as genuine refugees.
They were reopened in 2012 to prevent asylum seekers arriving by boat gaining access to Australia, and over 4,000 were processed at the sites between 2012 and 2019. Last December, there were still 105 people on Manus and 112 on Nauru.
Denmark may have been the first country to join the UN Refugee Convention in 1951, but it has been open about its goal of “zero” refugees in the country.
It passed legislation last year to allow it to move asylum seekers to third countries outside the EU while their cases were processed, a move that drew questions about its legality from the European Commission and human rights groups.
In 2015 Israel moved to halt a flood of refugees, mainly from Sudan and Eritrea, by striking deals with “third country safe havens” – identified by media sources as Uganda and Rwanda. By 2018, Israel said around a third of 65,000 people who had arrived in the country illegally had left under its various schemes.
Aslam said it was no surprise the Patel-Johnson briefing was “sketchy when it came to specifics”, because he thought the “horrendous” Nationality and Borders Bill, if passed, would go against their plans. Patel had not addressed Section 77 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, which states that no asylum seeker can be removed from the UK while their asylum application is pending.
“In the Borders Bill, whilst it states that they can be removed to a safe country, it defines safe country as a place where a person’s life and liberty are not threatened by reason of the person’s race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion,” said Aslam.
“Rwanda is a place that people run from for these exact reasons, so the law would not allow them to be sent there anyway.”