The Tories want to deport tens of thousands of refugees seeking safety in Britain to Rwanda. Home secretary Priti Patel signed the £120 million deal on Thursday with the east African country, thousands of miles from Britain. Any refugee who’s forced to come to Britain through an “illegal route”—such as crossing the English Channel in a boat—will have a “one-way ticket” to Rwanda.
The move will make Britain’s brutal and racist immigration system even worse—and lead to more deaths of people fleeing war, poverty and dictatorship.
The Refugee Action charity said, “Offshoring people 5,000 miles away is a grubby cash-for-people plan and a cowardly, barbaric and inhumane way to treat people fleeing persecution and war.”
Stand Up To Racism said, “We condemn the disgusting, racist and inhumane move to ‘offshore’ those seeking asylum to Rwanda, and support the emergency protests that have been called, so far in London and in Glasgow. This despicable policy is part of a wider intensification of the racist ‘hostile environment’.”
As part of this brutal move, the British government wants to militarise the English Channel to thwart refugees’ attempts to cross. And the Tories’ plans mean the government can give life sentences to those piloting the flimsy boats, often refugees themselves. It said, “The military will also now take operational command of responding to small boats in the Channel, in partnership with Border Force.
“This will happen with immediate effect, and be backed up by £50 million in new funding. This change will deliver new boats, aerial surveillance and expert military personnel. In doing so it will bolster Border Force teams and their existing patrol vessels and provide a Wildcat helicopter.”
Boris Johnson has been utterly committed to this racist agenda for a long time. But he is also trying to turn the spotlight away from the Tories’ crimes just days after receiving a fine for breaking Covid laws. It’s an attempt to deflect people’s anger over partygate and the cost of living crisis by scapegoating desperate people trying to find safety.
“Our compassion may be infinite, but our capacity to help people is not,” he claimed. So there is money for corrupt coronavirus contracts handed to ministers’ friends—but none to welcome desperate people fleeing persecution, war and poverty.
Johnson’s announcement on Thursday largely focussed on thwarting “vile smugglers” turning the ocean into a “watery graveyard”. People smugglers are small-time criminals. But their business model rests on Britain’s and the European Union’s racist border regimes that block refugees. If there were safe and legal routes for refugees, they wouldn’t be forced into the arms of the traffickers. Locking the borders and deporting people to Rwanda will only increase the reliance on people smugglers.
Johnson also pointed to Brexit as an excuse “to take back control of illegal immigration” and stop refugees travelling through “safe countries”. With the dire lack of legal resettlement programmes what other choice do refugees have than to travel thousands of miles to safety? But Johnson still boasted about the “generous protection” Britain provides.
Johnson claimed that, only by controlling immigration, can the government resettle vulnerable people from countries such as Ukraine and Afghanistan. But it’s the Tory government that failed to help Syrian and Afghan refugees—many of those now crossing the Channel are from these countries.
The Tories want to create a false divide between “good” and “bad refugees”, between the “deserving” and “undeserving”. This division will only reinforce racism against all refugees—and bolster further moves to clamp down on immigration.
Andy Hewett from the Refugee Council said, “There’s no difference between the risks facing Ukrainian refugees and the risks facing refugees from other conflict zones. And the response from the government needs to be consistent. They can’t have an open door for one group and at the same time be slamming the door shut on another group.”
The Tories have repeatedly talked of following Australia which slammed its border shut to refugees arriving by boat in 2013. Those who came after the deadline were sent to Australian-run detention centres on Nauru in the South Pacific or Manus island, part of Papua New Guinea. The results were terrible suffering.
Johnson claimed Rwanda is “one of safest countries in world”, but human rights charities have already raised concerns about torture and abuse in centres.
The Labour Party responded to the Tories’ plan by demanding speedier deportations of refugees who are refused asylum. “We’ve got some of the slowest decision-making in Europe, and crucially, we haven’t got these return agreements,” said Lucy Powell, the shadow culture secretary. “So even though I think around about two-thirds of the asylum cases of those that come across the Channel are in fact granted, the third that aren’t granted can’t be returned.”
Labour leader Keir Starmer’s only critique was that it was “unworkable and extortionate” for taxpayers. Racist oppression is wrong whatever the cost.
The Tories’ Nationality and Borders Bill is currently stuck between the House of Commons and Lords. The bill criminalises any refugee crossing the Channel.
Resistance to it has to be ramped up to block the Tories’ racist crackdown. Anti-racists, trade unionists and activists have to unite in opposition against border controls and demand refugees be welcomed—not shipped off.
Up to 500 protesters rallied outside the Home Office in central London on Thursday to rage at the Tories’ new plans. They then marched to Parliament Square, past Downing Street and on to Trafalgar Square, chanting, “Refugees are welcome here,” and, “No borders, no nations, stop deportations.”
Rogelio from the Philippines waited two and a half years to be granted refugee status. When he was eventually given it earlier this year, he felt “exhausted”. “I was told it would take six months, but it was prolonged,” he told Socialist Worker. “The solution is to grant all undocumented migrants status.
“It’s like I was being interrogated when I was applying. You’re already in limbo waiting through an inhumane process and now they want to make it harder. People have to know the facts and ignore the propaganda and smokescreen.”
Isaac is an immigration lawyer who came to support the protest. “We’re used to horrific announcements, but today felt different,” he told Socialist Worker. “It’s cruel.” He added that “the government needs to stop breaking its own laws and international laws” before pointing the finger at refugees and those who help them.
“While they fail to make legal and safe routes, and undermine those that exist, all this does is create more business for human traffickers,” he said.
Speakers from a range of migrant charities and organisations, trade unionists, environmental and LGBT+ activists, and Labour MPs joined the protest.
Liz Wheatley, Unison union branch secretary in Camden, said, “Anyone with a desire for a better life has a valid reason to be here. The rich get to decide where they want to live to make the most money out of us. Laws do not stop people seeking refugees. Our job is to make it possible to welcome them.”
Many protesters were clear—get rid of borders, the police, the Tories and their system. “We have to fight for all refugees,” one lawyer told the crowd. “We can’t rely on the legal system—the real battle has to be fought and won in the streets. Migrants aren’t the problem. Capitalism is.”
Protester Gemma slammed the new policy as “disgusting”. “The Tories know what they’re doing – trying to justify their cruelty,” she told Socialist Worker. “It’s important we’re protesting to show we don’t believe them and to raise awareness of what’s happening.”
Protester Naz added, “We’re always being lied to—there’s so much misinformation. They’re creating such a dangerous narrative by playing refugees off each other. We have to vote the Tories out, but also keep protesting and organising.”
It’s good that such an angry protest raged at the Tories—more are needed to stop their horrific plans.
On Saturday 500 people joined a demonstration in Glasgow, 100 in Birmingham and between 30 and 50 in Leeds, Cardiff, Manchester, Nottingham and Chesterfield.
Reports from disputes around Britain
Security services were involved
Move will increase police racism
Johnson could enrage all sides