Resist Rwanda deportation scheme

10 May 2024

The Tories’ plan to deny refugees their right to claim asylum in Britain, and instead deport them to Rwanda, has overcome another hurdle with the passage of the Rwanda Safety Bill.

The Bill was necessary to overrule last November’s Supreme Court ruling that the scheme broke UK and international law because there was insufficient evidence that Rwanda was a safe country.

The government claims the scheme will deter refugees from travelling to the UK by ‘irregular’ means. Home Secretary James Cleverley boasted that the bill is a ‘landmark moment in our plan to stop the boats’.

Just hours after the bill was passed, five people, including an eight year old child died attempting to cross the English channel. The policy of locking up asylum seekers in concentration camps or prison hulks for years on end, barring asylum applicants from working, or threatening to deport them to Rwanda, has not ‘deterred’ people from coming to Britain.

Denunciations of ‘smuggling gangs’ blame the symptom, not the cause. The growth of channel crossings and smuggling networks that organise them is a result of the general rise in the number of refugees, the near disappearance of legal routes of entry, and the crackdown on previous modes of irregular entry via airports, ports and the channel tunnel.

The facts are clear: the vast majority of ‘irregular arrivals’ are refugees entitled to asylum or workers seeking jobs and a better standard of living. Citizens of five countries—Iran, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Albania—make up 71% of those crossing in small boats between 2018 and 2023. 92% of those claimed asylum. Of the small number of claims processed, 86% received a grant of protection.

The problem for the government is that under UK law and international treaties, refugees have the right to claim asylum in any country of their choosing. There is no law that obliges them to claim asylum in the first ‘safe country’. The wider context is that, despite the propaganda of the Brexit campaigners to ‘regain control of our borders’ in order to reduce immigration, Britain’s low wage, insecure economy, depends on migrant labour to staff our NHS, harvest our crops, and care for our elderly.

Therefore, until the UK finally abandons its international treaty obligations which require it to consider asylum claims, governments are obliged to spend ever more ludicrous sums of money fortifying the borders and persecuting refugees in order to ‘deter’ others.

But the Rwanda bill will not deter arrivals. This was a point confirmed by Matthew Rycroft, senior civil servant responsible for the policy, who told MPs his department had no evidence of the scheme’s deterrent effect.

The real strategic purpose of the bill is to keep the imagined ‘invasion of our southern coast’ (Suella Braverman) in the headlines, and allow the government to present itself as the defender of UK ‘sovereignty’ from interfering ‘European’ courts promoting ‘uncontrolled immigration, inadequate integration, and a misguided dogma of multiculturalism have proven a toxic combination for Europe over the last few decades’ (Braverman again).

The Rwanda safety bill has three real-world outcomes. The first is that it brings Britain into conflict with its international treaty obligations, by giving the government the right to overrule legal rulings by courts empowered to uphold various UN and European Convention on Human Rights treaties. The second is that it sets a precedent for mass deportations by allowing a government to declare by fiat that a country is a ‘safe’ destination. The third is that it will drive thousands of migrant workers into the black economy, hiding from snitches and Border Agency raids—a bonus for unscrupulous employers and gangmasters.

The Rwanda scheme has been the subject of major opposition since it was first proposed by former prime minister Boris Johnson in 2022. It was subsequently made the centrepiece of Rishi Sunak’s administration, as he attempts to hold the Tory party together in the face of a potential electoral wipeout in the upcoming general election.

Though Labour voted against Sunak’s Bill and have pledged to repeal it if they win the upcoming general election, Keir Starmer has promised to treat smuggling gangs like terrorists and do a deal with the European Union to return people who cross the Channel in return for taking a quota of those who arrive at the borders of the EU. The Labour leadership completely agree with the Tories that refugees are a problem to be kept out—but the money would be better spent on more border guards, police and faster processing of claims.

In Britain it will require a campaign to do everything possible to stop the flights,  including action by workers in the civil service and airports who should refuse to cooperate with the deportation scheme. In our communities we need organised self-defence against raids by the Border Agency, such as those in Glasgow in 2021, and in Margate and Peckham in recent weeks.  

Class struggle bulletin

Stay up to date with our weekly newsletter