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Jan 2024 Newsletter

Paul Wordsworth writes…..

What energy, time, money, and emotion have been spent by the Government in pushing through with the Rwanda plan. It has been described as an absolutely essential element to stopping the small boats from reaching the UK. We are told that any attempt to delay the Bill will be going against the will of the British people.

Where did this concept of ‘exporting’ asylum seekers come from?

During her time as Home Secretary, Priti Patel suggested various locations to which asylum seekers, who had arrived in the UK, could be sent. The Falkland Islands, Ascension Island, Albania, and even the more close at hand Isle of Man were suggested. None of the locations were willing to entertain the idea. However, Israel had run such a scheme of exporting those who had crossed their borders from war torn Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. They had signed a treaty with one of the poorest countries in Africa, Rwanda, to take up to 20,000 refugees, to follow on from a pilot scheme of around 200 in a first transportation. This took place in 2017. Those removed there could then apply for refugee status and potentially remain in Rwanda.

Of the 170 who were sent there by Israel, a number did apply for the right to remain. The result was 100% rejection of all applicants. They were given the option of remaining temporarily in the country, though without any form of support, or crossing the border and moving to neighbouring countries such as Uganda.  Concerned about the progress of the scheme, Israel sent envoys to see how the programme was working. When they arrived at the campsite, they found only a few sick people who were indeed destitute, and the rest had gone, with no record of their whereabouts. The Supreme Court of Israel declared the scheme unlawful, and the agreement was terminated in 2018.

An unlawful model for the UK

This is the model which Priti Patel brought to the table as a viable proposition for the UK Government. There was some consultation with civil servants, some members of the Home Office team, and the Prime Minister. The most senior civil servant offered the following advice; ‘The effect of such a scheme will not be significant enough to make the policy value for money. There is no evidence that it will deter people from arriving in the UK’. He probably thought that the matter would be ended with such an appraisal.

On 4th April 2022, the Minister for Refugees was asked in a radio interview if there were any plans to ‘offshore’ asylum seekers in Rwanda. He replied that no-one in the Home Office had discussed such a plan with him, and it was a non-story. Discussion moved to other matters.

However, on 14th April, 2022, with the fines from ‘Partygate’ dominating the headline news, Boris Johnson summoned an early morning Press conference to announce two exciting new

policies aimed at curbing immigration and cutting the cost of housing asylum seekers. He unveiled the Rwandan plan, and the location of a former RAF airfield at Linton –on –Ouse, to become the centre for housing 1500 single male asylum seekers. Just an hour later, Priti appeared on TV, in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, signing a treaty to enable planes to fly hundreds of asylum seekers to that country. She was filmed inspecting a hostel where they would be housed. It was not explained where the orphaned children and young people who currently inhabited the hostel would be accommodated. Perhaps they would be taken out for a full day’s coach trip every day, as they were when Priti turned up at their home.

The two stories certainly excited the interest of the media, particularly those who had been briefed beforehand about the breaking story, so they had time to write new headlines. I was rung at 9am on that day by Channel 4 asking for my comment on the Rwanda and Linton -on Ouse stories. Could they come and interview me? I could not see the connection between the 2 locations, and it had to be explained to me. I declined to comment on a story about which I had no detail, rather like the Refugee Minister 10 days earlier. So, from those breaking stories, which helped to bury ‘Partygate’ for a while, emerged a policy which had been hastily put together, and now would need to pass the legal tests.

This plan has so far cost the UK £240m in payment to Rwanda, with another £50m due. That is not counting the high and undisclosed legal fees incurred by the Home Office as they tried to push their scheme through the courts. The senior civil servant was right on that score.

Will the scheme effectively stop the boats?

The treaty allows the UK to send 200 asylum seekers a year to Rwanda for 5 years. In 2023, 30,000 people crossed the Channel in small boats. So, the odds of being sent to Rwanda are 150- 1. For desperate people who have overcome enormous obstacles to get as far as the French coast, those are probably odds worth taking. The effect of the policy in terms of numbers will not be significant. Where is the concrete proof that this scheme will work? There is none. The senior civil servant was right on that score too.

Is the policy of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda lawful?

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees has made the following statement.

‘We oppose the introduction of the policy, on the grounds that it is unlawful, prejudiced, and impractical. It does not comply with the UK’s International duties and responsibilities.’

The Bill put forward in parliament by the Government breaches the European Convention on Human Rights, to which the UK is a current signatory, and is therefore unlawful on those grounds.

The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom has also deliberated the scheme and made a judgement that it is unlawful. Part of its decision was based around the clearly documented evidence that Rwanda is not a safe and secure country to which asylum seekers can be sent. 

The Supreme Court of Israel adjudged that the practice was unlawful and their scheme was ended.

Is Rwanda a safe and secure country to which asylum seekers can be transported? 

It was only in 2021 that the UK government joined in passing a UN resolution condemning Rwanda for its ‘extra-judicial killings, deaths in custody, enforced disappearances and torture’. In 2018, the Rwandan police quelled a protest by unarmed refugees in their camp, complaining about conditions there, by opening fire with live ammunition and killing a number of protesters and wounding others. That’s how they deal with refugees who show any dissent.

Over many years, those who are political opponents of President Kagame have been accepted as refugees in the UK. They have proved beyond reasonable doubt that their lives were endangered there. Their applications for asylum in the UK would have been turned down if there was no evidence that their lives were at risk by staying in Rwanda.

The Government has addressed these major stumbling blocks with a cunning plan which is utterly breath-taking. Their Bill seeks to override all the evidence and the testimony of the UNHCR and the European Commission on Human Rights, the UK Supreme Court, the Supreme Court of Israel, and the lived experience of Rwandan refugees in the UK. The Bill declares that Rwanda is a safe and secure country, because the UK Government declares it to be so.

It is a Bill without precedence in Parliamentary history. The UK Parliament has taken upon itself the power to decide that other countries are as they want them to be. All that has to be done is to pass a motion saying it is so. Whatever next? A motion declaring Russia is a model of democracy in the free world? Another motion declaring that peace has come to Ukraine? Absurd as it is, the Bill found enough MP’s to walk through the lobby and approve it, so that it is now passed to House of Lords for their consideration.

The Government is so determined to transport asylum seekers to Rwanda, that they are willing to disregard International laws, and the judgements of our own Law court. Finding the law an inconvenience and therefore simply steering round it it is not a path that any Government should be travelling along. That attitude has implications far beyond a policy on asylum seekers, and is deeply concerning. It brings the law and those who administer it into disregard and disrespect. Indeed, Robert Jenrick, MP for Newark summed up such disregard when he recently claimed that ‘The law is our servant, not our master’. Is the law of the land in place simply to do the bidding of the Government? Does that mean that the Government can disregard the law with impunity, and carry out activities which are unlawful, without any repercussions?

I have dwelt at some length on this issue because it is a matter which will continue to be discussed and debated both in Parliament and in the media. Policies on immigration will certainly be in the headlines as we move towards an election, whenever that may be.

That is quite a troublesome thought to leave you with as we start 2024. Here is another. It is an apt quote from a former leader of the Conservatives. It should stir us to consider what is being done in our name at this time.

‘The first duty of government is to uphold the law. When it does not, nothing is safe – not home, not liberty, not life itself’.  Margaret Thatcher former PM

Commemoration of Ukraine Invasion at York Minster

It is 2 years since Russia advanced across the Ukrainian border in its illegal invasion of a sovereign country. The war rages on with missiles from Russia penetrating ever more deeply into Ukrainian towns and cities far from the border areas. An event will be held in York Minster on Saturday 24th February at 10.30 am to commemorate that moment in 2022. There will be readings and poetry, music and a time for quiet reflection. The Ukrainian people who have made their homes in York are invited, and their community will rightly be represented in words and songs. You are invited to join as well, to stand in solidarity with those who are looking for an end to war and the start of re-building lives and re-uniting with families.

Urgently looking

We are looking for landlords and those with accommodation to rent, in order to assist a waiting list of Ukrainians seeking to move on from being with hosts.  If you or someone you know has a room, an apartment, flat, or house to rent, we would love to hear from you or them. You can go to our website; see details below.

If you have not hosted before, you can still offer. We would be pleased to hear from you.

Paul Wordsworth
Co-ordinator- York City of Sanctuary
[email protected]