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Refugees on hunger strike against Tories’ Rwanda deportation plan

Britain’s immigration system is already racist and brutal—the Rwanda plan a major step to make it significantly worse
Issue 2808
Refugees are welcome here

A protest against Tory racism to refugees outside Downing Street last year (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Refugees are on hunger strike in protest at Tory plans to start expulsions to Rwanda soon. The Home Office says flights to Rwanda in central Africa will start on 14 June. None of the 100 people who have been told they will be sent there have any connection with the country.  

Some people facing deportation have attempted suicide. One said, “They can send my dead body to Rwanda, but I would rather die than go there.”

A Yemeni asylum seeker made a video addressed to Boris Johnson and home secretary Priti Patel. It says that, after he arrived in Britain on 13 April and found out about the Rwanda plan, he had “no other choice but to kill myself”.

At least 17 people from Syria, Egypt and Sudan, who are being held at the Brook House immigration removal centre near Gatwick airport, started a hunger strike.

The government’s response was to threaten quicker removal. A letter to a hunger striker seen by the Guardian newspaper says, “Your refusal of food and/or fluids will not necessarily lead to your removal directions being deferred. In the interests of your health and safety we may prioritise your removal.” 

In a statement, some of the hunger strikers said they had been detained in Libya but had not expected the same treatment in Britain. “I just want to be safe and free. I’m not a criminal,” one said. “Why did the UK put me in prison? I have no connection with Rwanda. Why would the UK send me there?”

The Tories are trying to normalise closed borders where people who reach Britain are refused appeals against being sent to Rwanda. Once there they will be denied basic rights under an authoritarian government. The deportation system is already vicious. This is a major step to worsen it.

The refugee charity Care4Calais estimates “that over 70 percent of those with Rwanda notices have suffered torture or trafficking”. It’s happened “either in their home countries or on the incredibly dangerous journeys they have made”. “As a result, many have serious physical and mental scars,” said the charity. “And they are finding the intense stress of detention, coupled with the threat of being sent to Rwanda, intolerable.”

Care4Calais added that “the ‘logic’ to the Rwanda plan is that we take people who, by definition, have escaped from the very worst things in this world”. And then “present them with something that fills them with even more terror in order to deter them from coming”. 

The government says that refugees ought to use legal routes to Britain to claim asylum. But these do not exist except for tiny numbers of people. It is virtually impossible for anyone from Afghanistan to come to Britain, despite all the promises about standing with the country’s people when the Taliban took over. 

At most, around 10,000 Afghans have been allowed to come to Britain in the last year. Pakistan has taken in 1.2 million Afghanis. Because there are no legal routes, the number of asylum seekers from Afghanistan crossing the Channel in small boats has risen fivefold this year.

The Tories are trying to divert attention from their own crisis and the social emergency of rising prices by scapegoating refugees. It is “red meat” designed to win votes through the manipulation of racism.

Refugees are not the enemies of working class people. The problem is the billionaires and the politicians who support them and their system. The number of British billionaires has just reached a new record, up six from last year to 177. Their loot has increased by 9.4 percent to a record £653 billion.

Campaigning has already seen the release of two people who were due to be sent to Rwanda. Protests and legal challenges halted a deportation flight to Iraqi Kurdistan last week. There must urgently be more resistance to stop Rwanda deportations and to fight for a welcome for all refugees.

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