The British government, under the increasingly unsteady hand of Boris Johnson, has announced a proposal to deport asylum seekers who arrive by ‘unauthorised routes’ (such as crossing the Channel in little boats or stowed away in trucks, big boats or aeroplanes) to Rwanda in east Africa.
Those who cannot convince the government that they should be allowed to live in Britain will, it seems, be left in Rwanda – or will be expelled by the Rwandan authorities to God knows where.
This cunning wheeze to offshore Britain’s ‘immigrant processing problem’ involves a down payment to Rwanda of £120m on a trial basis, which Mhari Aurora in the Times has described as “an expensive gamble, especially when taxpayers are under significant financial pressure with rising inflation, rising taxes and stagnating wages”. (Exporting migrants to Rwanda – what could possibly go wrong, 14 April 2022)
There are two trends of thought regarding this idea:
(1) According to some, the proposal is mere vote-chasing, an unreal threat which simply aims to get ‘partygate’ off of the front pages by any means necessary and to show Boris ‘heroically’ ‘doing something’ (even a bizarre and costly thing) about an issue he can really do little about except tinker – that is, to stop the influx of refugees seeking a better life away from the horrors brought to their countries (mainly by western imperialism).
His timespan to bamboozle people into accepting that this strange plan is a serious proposal and will be done was short: ie, by the local elections on 5 May 2022, which he feared could have been used as a springboard to launch a campaign to oust him should the results have been especially bad for the Tories.
For his part, the prime minister insists that the first flights will start in weeks, but we have been here before. Previously mooted plans for ‘dealing with’ asylum seekers included housing them in floating hostels off Britain’s shores, like the prison hulks of old, or setting up offshore processing centres in countries such as Albania or Ghana.
Each time such a proposal has been floated, the combination of the costs of the project and the costs of dealing with the legal challenges have made it financially unviable.
Then we come to the second way of looking at this proposal: (2) It is really going to happen!
One of the reasons that none of the previously proposed schemes came to fruition is that it appears that neither Albania nor Ghana could or would agree to all Britain’s rules and stipulations. More importantly, there were huge legal problems that appeared insurmountable at that time.
Rwanda, however, seems to tick all the government’s boxes regarding assessing asylum seekers, and seems happy to play its part for whatever (undisclosed) fees have been agreed.
Secondly, there will shortly be no legal grounds left to argue against this measure for those concerned.
The Nationality and Borders Bill, currently making its way through Parliament, will be the game-changer in this regard.
At present, it is generally unlawful for an asylum seeker to be removed from the United Kingdom while either their asylum claim or appeal is being processed. This safeguard will be removed by clause 28 combined with Schedule 3 of the bill, enabling their removal to a “safe country” while their claim is pending.
What counts as a ‘safe country’? According to the proposed bill, it is a place where a person’s life and liberty are not threatened because of their race, religion, nationality, group membership or political opinion; a place from which a person will not be removed elsewhere other than in accordance with the refugee convention, and where they can be brought without the prospect of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. A person cannot be removed to a country of which they are a citizen or a national.
So, unless you are a national of Rwanda, you will be liable to removal even while your claim is being assessed. Meanwhile, the fact that Britain receives a fair number of asylum claims from Rwandan citizens who say they have been subjected to modern slavery does rather militate against the assumption that Rwanda is a ‘safe country’.
Mark Piggott of the Times has pointed out the absurdity of the Rwanda proposal: “I find it strange that when young, fit adults arrive on our shores, rather than set them to work doing all the jobs we no longer wish to do, we offload them on to a country with no such shortages.”
He went on to point out that the “ONS reported last November a record 1.2 million job vacancies”, while “at the end of 2021 there were more than 100,000 asylum applicants awaiting an initial decision … The average wait is a year.
“If the UK is unable to source enough workers at home to keep services going, does it really make sense to spend hundreds of millions of pounds removing people who want to work and pay taxes while their asylum claims are processed?” (It’s idiotic to send willing workers all the way to Rwanda, 19 April 2022)
Bearing in mind the enthusiasm with which British people are being asked to help out asylum seekers coming from Ukraine, and the welcome being extended to millions of wealthy Hong Kongers, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that home secretary Priti Patel’s proposals, besides being absurdly stupid, are both racist and discriminatory against the poor.
The reader hopefully can see that some of the points in (1) are still valid in scenario (2): ie, burying partygate and electoral advantage are a small biproduct of this proposal. But ask yourself: if this was not really going to happen, why does the Nationality and Borders Bill make it possible by erasing the existing legal protections for the asylum seeker?
If it does not happen this time, it seems certain that we are being acclimatised to the idea so it can happen soon – if not in Rwanda then somewhere else.
Meanwhile, it is very clear that the Labour party will give no meaningful opposition to the Nationality and Borders Bill, whatever its leaders may pretend, but will stand with the government in attacking those most distressed and least able to stand up for themselves.
Various individual MPs have spoken against the Rwanda plan in Parliament, and some of them have even voted against parts of the borders bill, but it is clear that this disgusting anti-worker legislation will be carried – and that there will be no way to rectify this or any of the other injustices of British society via bourgeois parliamentarism.
As with all other questions of importance to the working class, a thoroughgoing social revolution is our only path to salvation. And only a scientific socialist party of the working class will be able to unite our numbers into a force capable of defeating all the powers ranged against us.
It is time and past time that British workers stopped allowing themselves to be divided according to skin colour, nationality or any other arbitrary division. As workers, we have a common interest in ridding ourselves of the exploiters who hold us all down, and the only ones who benefit from the spread of racist ideas are our rulers, whose decaying system is enabled to last a little longer when the exploited can be persuaded to keep fighting amongst themselves.