Rwanda – a few notes
By Hugh Ashton
Originally published by Lichfield, Tamworth and Burton Liberal Democrats
It seems that 35% of Britons in a recent survey agree with the government's policy of sending undocumented visitors to this country to Rwanda. 45% disagree with it.
However, the waters have been muddied by deliberate misinformation and obfuscation by the proposers of this scheme.
First, the basis on which this has been agreed is by a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). A MoU, unlike a treaty, is not subject to oversight and ratification by Parliament. This MoU is something which very few people seem to have actually read. However, it is available for reading here, and it does make for interesting reading.
The government would have us believe that only "illegal migrants" will be deported. Actually:
The objective of this Arrangement is to create a mechanism for the relocation of asylum seekers whose claims are not being considered by the United Kingdom, to Rwanda… [para 2.1]
So they are not illegal migrants. They are asylum seekers - and ones whose claims the British government is not even bothering to process. Remember, other than for Ukrainian refugees, there is no online procedure or mechanism to apply for refugee status in the UK from outside the UK.
So what happens when they get to Rwanda?
We're outsourcing the visa application process to the Rwandan government, who will examine their claims and decide on whether they are granted the right to remain in the UK, right?
[Rwanda] will process their claims and settle or remove (as appropriate) individuals after their claim is decided, in accordance with Rwanda domestic law, the Refugee Convention, current international standards, including in accordance with international human rights law and including the assurances given under this Arrangement [para 2.1]
and just to emphasise the point that this is NOT in any way outsourcing of UK asylum claims:
Following a request made by the United Kingdom, Rwanda will take all reasonable steps in accordance with international human rights standards to make a Relocated Individual available for return to the United Kingdom should the United Kingdom be legally obliged to facilitate that person's return. [para 11.1]
Note that there is no obligation whatsoever for these individuals to be returned to the country where they took enormous risks to reach because it was their preferred destination (for reasons of family, language, or whatever). The MoU does provide for proper and humane treatment of those deported by the UK once they are in Rwanda, but despite the proposed formation of a Monitoring Committee [section 15], it is almost inevitable that there will be abuses of the system. Rwanda does not enjoy a good record on human rights.
15.1 The Participants will make arrangements for the formation of a Monitoring Committee.
15.2 The Monitoring Committee will be comprised of persons independent of both Participants.
And what does Rwanda get out of this?
As well as £120,000,000, the right to export some of its refugees to the UK:
The Participants will make arrangements for the United Kingdom to resettle a portion of Rwanda's most vulnerable refugees in the United Kingdom, recognising both Participants' commitment towards providing better international protection for refugees. [para 16.1]
So the whole sorry affair is nothing to do with reducing immigration, let alone cutting off the supply of victims to the people traffickers. It is simply a way for the Conservatives to shrug off their responsibility towards vulnerable people and pretend to be acting tough in order to satisfy the "Blukippers" (members of extreme nationalist and xenophobic parties who have infiltrated the Conservative Party, and now form a significant proportion of their electoral base).
Why can't we send them back to France?
Sorry. The answer is "Brexit" . When we crashed out of the EU we also lost our rights to send back asylum seekers under the Dublin agreement. Oops. Who saw that coming? Not those who signed the oven-ready deal, that's for sure.
Why does the ECHR have jurisdiction here when we have left the EU?
The European Court of Human Rights has nothing to do with the EU - it's the judicial arm of the Council of Europe. It was set up at the instigation of a British Prime Minister (Churchill) in order to protect citizens of Europe from abuses such as those perpetrated by the Nazis and the Declaration was largely written by British lawyers. At the time of writing, only two European countries are not members - Russia and Belarus.
What about those "lefty lawyers" making a fortune out of this?
First of all, lawyers are there to argue the law - the fact that they take on a case that fights the government does not automatically make them enemies of the state.
Second, many lawyers have principles and morality - they may well be taking on these cases pro bono as a matter of conscience. This is something that seems to be a difficult concept for some to grasp.
And the possible answers to the immigration problem?
Firstly, it is important to counter the false narratives propounded by the right-wing media ("swamped by illegal economic migrants imposing sharia law in our cities", etc.). We take far fewer refugees, either in absolute or proportional numbers, than almost any other European country.
The Home Office needs a complete reshuffle - starting from the top. Priti Patel has lost the confidence of the police and Border Force, two elements which are necessary for the implementation of any immigration policy.
There needs to be an emphasis on speedy processing of asylum claims, staffed and funded proportionate to the number of those seeking asylum.
While an asylum claim is being processed, allow asylum seekers to live and work in the UK on a provisional basis.
As proposed and rejected by several bodies, inside and outside the UK, allow for applications for refugee status to be made outside the UK for all asylum seekers and refugees - not just those from the Ukraine.
And lastly, if the government is serious about people traffickers, we have the technical skills to locate and take out of circulation (via judicial means in conjunction with other countries where necessary) people traffickers, in the same way that drug gangs, money launderers, and other bad actors have been targeted and surgically removed from the scene. The cost would almost certainly be less than the £500,000 per flight and £120,000,000 paid to Rwanda.
But of course, none of these solutions will be acceptable to this present government - because they might work, and then there will be no one left to blame for the state of the nation that they have created.
Hugh Ashton is a Liberal Democrat City Councillor in Lichfield, and a member of the Lichfield City of Sanctuary group