Obscene outsourcing: The UK-Rwanda refugee deal
This month, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government joined a nefarious collective when it announced a shabby-titled refugee deal with Rwanda UK-Rwanda Migration Partnership. The fact that such terms are used – a partnership or deal meaning contract and transaction – suggests how inhumane politics has become towards those seeking refuge and a better life.
The London-Kigali deal mimics in no small measure the “Pacific Solution,” a venal response formulated by the Australian government to deter asylum seekers arriving by boat and to create a two-tiered approach to assessing asylum claims . At the heart of the 2001 policy was the transfer of such arrivals to Pacific outposts on the islands of Manus and Nauru in Papua New Guinea, where there were no guarantees of settlement in Australia. Despite being scrapped by the Labor Rudd government in late 2007, the policy was reinstated in 2012 by a politically panicked Prime Minister Julia Gillard under what was billed as Pacific Solution Mark II.
The victory of the conservative Liberal-National Party coalition in the 2013 election resulted in its most ferocious manifestation. Operation Sovereign Borders, as the policy became known, threw a veil of military secrecy over the interception of boats and the initiation of tugboats. The crude, if simple, slogan popularized by the Abbott administration was “Stop the Boats”. Such a sadistic policy was justified as honorable: prevent drowning at sea; Disrupting the “people smuggler model”. In truth, the approach merely rerouted arrival routes while doing little to deter smugglers.
Other measures followed: the creation of a border force specially equipped to deal with violence; that passing of laws the criminalization of whistleblowers for exposing deplorable, torturous camp conditions involving self-harm, suicide and sexual abuse.
Inspired by such a punitive example, despite its gross error and astronomical cost (Australian politics saw a Draft law to detain a single asylum seeker come to $2.5 million), the Johnson government has been parroting the same issues as the UK Home Office called, misleadingly, a “world-first partnership” to tackle the “global migration crisis”. The partnership sought to “address the shared international challenge of illegal migration and disrupting the business model of smuggling gangs.” Not once was reference made to the right of asylum, which applies regardless of the mode of travel or arrival.
Johnson too repeated the theme of targeting those “vile human smugglers” who have turned the ocean into a “watery graveyard,” without mentioning that such individuals also serve to promote the right to asylum. More aptly, he remarked that compassion “may be infinite, but our ability to help people is not.”
If the Home Office is to be believed, sending individuals to Rwanda, or as it puts it, “migrants making dangerous or illegal journeys,” is a show of generosity. Successful applicants “are then supported to build a new and prosperous life in one of the fastest growing economies, recognized worldwide for their achievements in welcoming and integrating migrants.”
Rwanda will certainly benefit with a generous £120m bribe earmarked for “economic development and growth” while also receiving funds for “asylum operations, housing and integration similar to the costs incurred in the UK for these services.”
The country will also pride itself on skirting its own less than palatable human rights records, which has a resume of extrajudicial killings, torture, unlawful or arbitrary detention, suspicious deaths in custody and a crackdown on dissidents. In 2018 it was security forces in Rwanda responsible for the killing at least 12 refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They had protested a cut in their food rations. Several survivors were subsequently arrested and prosecuted for fees from rebellion to “spreading false information with the intention of creating hostile international opinion against the Rwandan state”.
The British-Rwandan partnership also perpetuates old slurs by discrediting Channel crossers as purely economic migrants who somehow forfeit their right to a fair assessment. Human Rights Watch UK’s Emilie McDonnell debunks this myth by pointing to Home Office data and information collected through freedom of information laws 61% of migrants those traveling by boat are likely to remain in the UK after applying for asylum. the refugee council, in an analysis of channel crossings and asylum outcomes between January 2020 and June 2021, found that 91% of those who made the trip came from 10 countries where human rights violations are recognized as widespread.
Refugees and asylum seekers are the stuff of political value that, like stocks, rises and falls depending on the government of the day. For Johnson, the deal with Rwanda was also a chance to give newspaper columns and an angry blogosphere another topic of conversation. “Send refugees to Rwanda” claims The Mirror “is the political equivalent of a distraction break-in, only less subtle and infinitely more criminal.”
The event in question, which supposedly justified this heinous distraction, was serious enough. Johnson, along with his wife Carrie and British Chancellor Rishi Sunak, were found to have flouted the government’s COVID-19 emergency laws and were fined by police. This is already written in the history books as the “Partygate affair,” which involved a series of social events run by staff while the rest of the country was under tight lockdown restrictions. The same history books will also point out that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor are both pioneers face penalties ordered by the police.
Johnson’s own blotting took place on 19 June 2020 while he was holding a birthday party in the Cabinet Room at 10 Downing Street. “In all openness then” he argued“It never occurred to me that this could have been a violation of the rules.” With such a perspective on legality and violations, the agreement with Rwanda seems a logical complement, disregarding human rights, an affront to dignity, a potential danger to life and as a violation of international refugee law.
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