Rwanda scheme: No one should have to ask if their child will be sent away

Published: 26 April 2022

Dr Dan Fisher and John Smith Emerging Leader, Savan Qadir, critique the proposed removal of people seeking asylum to Rwanda.

This piece was first published as Commentary in The National, 25 April 2022. Link to article.

By Dr Dan Fisher and Savan Qadir

TO much fanfare, the UK government has recently announced that people who came to the UK from the 1st of January 2022 and are failed asylum seekers will be removed from the UK to Rwanda.

As part of the deal with Rwanda that Priti Patel has signed recently, asylum seekers who came to the UK via irregular routes may now be removed to Rwanda. Patel has insisted that the deal is to deter “illegal entry” and go after “human traffickers” so they no longer have a business model. However, critics have described such a plan as illegal and extortionate. Indeed, even the government have acknowledged the Bill’s sketchy footing in law, and announced that they are prepared to reignite their fight against "activist lawyers" in the courts.

There are strong concerns over the effectiveness of the Rwanda deal – in particular whether it would have any effect on human traffickers’ activities. It is important to remember that there is a significant difference between human smugglers and human traffickers. While smugglers are paid by people seeking to enter another country, human traffickers forcefully move people around the world. Those who are trafficked are modern day slaves, often invisible until they escape or tragically die. As a result, victims of trafficking do not claim asylum until they have escaped their traffickers. Yet even under the current system, victims of trafficking then face the difficult task of successfully claiming asylum and many are unfairly rejected and detained. Yet the UK government’s plan is to transport victims of trafficking to Rwanda where, regardless of whether they gain refugee status, they would be at serious risk of further abuse or even re-trafficking. This might seem like an overstatement, but it is well-known that trafficking groups are highly organised and have the resources to track down individuals they have power over.

Regardless of its legality and workability, there is also no denying the Bill’s cruelty. Relocating people thousands of miles away to be another country’s problem is an awful attempt at a solution that could only have been dreamed up by those without compassion. Yet on Tuesday, in the House of Commons, Boris Johnson told MPs of his "surprise" at the amount of push-back the government has been receiving against the deal. This from the man whose compassion is supposedly infinite… However, even if transporting people to Rwanda wasn’t an act of violence (which it is), then detaining them in privatised "processing centres" surely is. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the government had to be taken to court over the squalid housing conditions in Napier barracks used to house people seeking asylum in the UK. What judicial oversight will there be concerning people’s living conditions in Rwanda? Who will take responsibility for the living conditions in Rwanda? Surely it won’t be Johnson or Patel.

The recent tagline in the debacle of the Rwanda deal is that its critics have offered no solutions of their own. The asylum system is broken, says Patel, and this Conservative Government is the only Government in recent years attempting to fix it. Apart from the fact that the Home Office has undergone numerous reforms since the turn of the century, critics of the Rwanda plan have been very clear on the possible alternatives. The obvious solution for a government with actual compassion would be to provide safe and legal routes for those seeking to claim asylum in the UK – without the need for slow resettlement programs to be established (as we have seen with Ukraine and Afghanistan). Another solution – offered by Conservative MP Sir Bob Neill – would be to use the eye-watering £120m committed to the Rwanda scheme to fund more immigration tribunal judges and Home Office caseworkers. Such a plan would indeed relieve much of the existing pressure on the UK’s asylum system, which still faces a huge backlog of cases.

Many asylum seekers in the UK are rightly worried about whether they will be removed on the one-way ticket to Rwanda. There is still little information on who would be removed and under what criteria. There are already some people who have been told that they may be removed from the UK to Rwanda. In our capacity as activists, we have already been approached by people waiting on their asylum cases to be heard who are very worried and anxious about the situation. One parent, currently housed in a hotel and who arrived in the UK before January and prior to the rest of their family, sent us a picture of their children and had to ask us “Will my children be sent to Rwanda?”. We had no choice but to say (through Google Translate – because hotels have no interpreters) that, at the moment, we have no idea what will happen.

Amid the gloom, however, there is still hope for those fighting the Nationality and Borders Bill and the Rwanda deal. The House of Lords has defeated the Borders Bill twice already and, as it stands, the Lords are likely to reject the offshoring and offloading of asylum seekers and refugees to third countries like Rwanda. And time is running out for the Government. The Queen’s speech is due on the 10th of May and, if the Government can’t pass the Borders Bill by the time of the speech, then there is a chance of it being dropped altogether. The House of Lords will debate the Nationality and Borders Bill on Tuesday the 26th of April. We have to hope that they will again reject the government’s proposals. However, we can also act. As with MPs and MSPs, people can find out how individual Lords have voted and write to support or reprimand their decisions. Unlike MPs, however, the Lords do not have constituencies – so you can write to any and all of them. Those that deserve our support and thanks include Lords Dubs, Rosser, Paddick and Kerr and Ladies Lister and Stroud and Chakrabarti. By contrast, those Members of the House of Lords that need to be written to in order to demonstrate our anger and disdain at their support for the plans to offshore people seeking asylum are all those that voted against amendment 35 on the 2nd of March concerning offshoring (and the subsequent vote on the 4th of April). As with so many discussions that concern the Nationality and Borders Bill, these discussions took place with very little vocal support for the Government’s plans. Nevertheless, 155 Members of the Lords supported the Government’s plans.

The Lords regularly act without much attention from the public but this must stop. It is for this reason that we publish the full list of those 155 Members of the House of Lords that voted against the amendment concerning the offshoring of asylum seekers:

Lord Altrincham, Baroness Anelay of St Johns , Lord Arbuthnot of Edrom, The Earl of Arran, Lord Ashton of Hyde, Lord Astor of Hever, Earl Attlee, Lord Balfe, Baroness Barran, Lord Bellingham, Lord Benyon ,Lord Bethell ,Baroness Blackwood of North Oxford, Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist, Lord Borwick, Baroness Brady, Viscount Bridgeman, Lord Bridges of Headley, Lord Browne of Belmont, Lord Brownlow of Shurlock Row, Lord Caine , Lord Carlile of Berriew, Lord Carrington of Fulham, Earl Cathcart, Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen, Lord Choudrey, Lord Colgrain, Lord Colwyn, Lord Cormack, The Earl of Courtown, Lord Crathorne, Lord Cruddas, Lord Davies of Gower, Lord Dobbs, Lord Dodds of Duncairn, The Earl of Dundee, Baroness Eaton, Baroness Eccles of Moulton, Lord Empey, Baroness Evans of Bowes Park, Lord Fairfax of Cameron, Lord Faulks, Lord Fellowes of West Stafford, Baroness Fleet, Baroness Fookes, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, Baroness Foster of Oxton, Lord Framlingham, Baroness Fraser of Craigmaddie, Lord Frost, Lord Garnier, Lord Geddes, Lord Glenarthur, Baroness Goldie, Viscount Goschen, Lord Greenhalgh, Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach, Lord Grimstone of Boscobel, Lord Hamilton of Epsom, Lord Haselhurst, Lord Hayward, Lord Henley, Lord Herbert of South Downs, Lord Hill of Oareford, Baroness Hodgson of Abinger, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, Lord Holmes of Richmond, Baroness Hooper, Lord Horam, Lord Howard of Rising, Earl Howe, Lord Howell of Guildford, Baroness Jenkin of Kennington, Lord Johnson of Marylebone, Lord Jopling, Lord Kamall, Lord Kilclooney, Lord King of Bridgwater, Lord Lamont of Lerwick, Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton, Lord Lang of Monkton, Lord Lansley, The Earl of Leicester, Lord Leigh of Hurley, Lord Lingfield, The Earl of Liverpool, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, Lord Mancroft, Lord Marland, Lord Marlesford, Lord Maude of Horsham, Lord McCrea of Magherafelt and Cookstown, Lord McInnes of Kilwinning, Lord McLoughlin, Baroness Meyer, The Duke of Montrose, Baroness Morgan of Cotes, Lord Morrow, Lord Moylan, Lord Moynihan, Lord Naseby, Baroness Neville-Rolfe, Baroness Newlove, Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne, Lord Northbrook, Lord Norton of Louth, Lord Offord of Garvel, Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, Lord Patten of Barnes, Baroness Penn, Lord Pickles, Baroness Pidding, Lord Polak, Lord Porter of Spalding, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, Baroness Rawlings, Lord Reay, Baroness Redfern, Lord Risby, Lord Robathan, Baroness Rock, Baroness Sanderson of Welton, Lord Sarfraz, Lord Sassoon, Baroness Sater, Baroness Seccombe, Lord Selkirk of Douglas, Baroness Shackleton of Belgravia, Lord Sharpe of Epsom, Lord Sheikh, Lord Sherbourne of Didsbury, The Earl of Shrewsbury, Lord Smith of Hindhead, Baroness Stedman-Scott, Lord Sterling of Plaistow, Lord Stewart of Dirleton, Baroness Stowell of Beeston, Lord Strathcarron, Lord Strathclyde, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, Viscount Trenchard, Lord True, Lord Vaizey of Didcot, Baroness Vere of Norbiton, Baroness Verma, Lord Wei, Lord Wharton of Yarm, Lord Whitby, Lord Willetts, Baroness Williams of Trafford, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar, Lord Young of Cookham, Viscount Younger of Leckie, and Lord de Mauley.

First published: 26 April 2022