On 6 May, protesters infiltrated a Conservative party dinner in Bassetlaw, Nottinghamshire. During a keynote speech by home secretary Priti Patel they took it in turns to stand on chairs to denounce her ‘racist and inhumane’ plan to deport refugees to Rwanda. (The audience booed them as they were removed.)
The UK government has reached an agreement with Rwanda by which refugees who arrive in the UK ‘illegally’ (the only way they can), and who apply for asylum, will be flown 4,500 miles to Rwanda. There, they will be ‘encouraged’ to apply for refugee status. (This scheme does not apply to parents with children.)
The UK has agreed to pay Rwanda £120mn, and also pay for the refugees’ flights, accommodation and maintenance. In return, Rwanda has agreed to accept ‘tens of thousands’ of refugees.
The main justification given for the scheme is to deter refugees from continuing to cross the Channel in small boats. This is happening in ever greater numbers. This year, 8,393 people crossed between 1 January and 16 May.
Rwanda is one of the poorest and hottest countries on earth, with a poor human rights record, in which LGBTQI+ people are persecuted.
The law firm InstaLaw, with the support of the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has launched a legal challenge on the grounds that these proposals breach international law, the UN refugee convention and British data protection law.
The British Red Cross and the Refugee Council have warned that the threat of deportation has had a detrimental impact on the physical and psychological health of asylum-seekers, many of whom are disappearing from their official accommodation and not accessing official means of support for fear of deportation.
However, the government has had to officially withdraw its ‘pushback’ policy for boats carrying refugees across the Channel, after strong opposition. This U-turn was announced on 24 April, the day before a judicial review of the policy, launched by Freedom from Torture and others, was due to be held in the high court.