UK’s Rwanda asylum plans are shallow, expensive, and counterproductive

To send refugees who have made their way to the UK to Rwanda is inhuman, shallow, expensive, and counterproductive.  

What is the problem that Rwanda is a solution to? It can’t be that the government wants to deter refugees coming here on account of there being too many. After all, the UK’s island status means that we take at least three times fewer refugees than 

France and four times fewer than Germany. In 2021, we took the 18th largest number of asylum seekers per head in the EU. 

Is it to reduce the number of people taking the dangerous journey across the English channel? Officially, yes. But, in reality, I am sure that the government knows it won’t do that at all. 

I visited Calais last week. There I met people whose stories would break the strongest of us. They have escaped war and persecution, embarked on a long and miserable journey north – often via the lawless, violent, state of Libya. They have crossed the Mediterranean (one Sudanese young man I spoke to had witnessed 42 of his companions die in the attempt), then travelled through Europe to Calais. In Calais, they are treated despicably – their tents and sleeping bags are destroyed every couple of nights by the police. It seems obvious that those people will not be put off attempting the last leg of the journey to the UK by the possibility of being sent to Rwanda.

My fear also is that, for people who are seeking to come to the UK because of family, linguistic and cultural ties, will simply try to get back again from Rwanda, thereby providing a new, more lucrative and far more dangerous market for the traffickers.

So how do we stop those lethal boat journeys across the channel? It seems obvious to me: If we provide safe routes to the UK, we will end the demand for dangerous ones. For most, and certainly for those from Sudan who were the majority we met in Calais, there is no safe route to the UK. Yet 95% of Sudanese asylum applications are granted refugee status in the UK, indicating that they are not economic migrants but refugees requiring protection.

There are tens of thousands of Ukrainians seeking sanctuary in the UK. But I didn’t see any Ukrainians sleeping rough in Calais, waiting to take a dangerous boat journey over the Channel. Why not? Well, because we have provided Ukrainians with a safe route to get to the UK, to apply from mainland Europe for refuge in the UK. It’s not perfect, but it’s a safe route. So, there’s your answer.

We spoke to the Calais local conservative MP who was clear that there was support in France for refugees to claim asylum in the UK from centres in France. If the UK government picked up the phone to the French government, it could open a conversation that would end the smugglers’ business model overnight, giving us that chance to treat refugees the way we would wish to be treated if we were in their position. As the people of Ukraine can testify, you never know when it could be you and your children…

It would also be vastly less expensive than paying for private flights and accommodation to send people four thousand miles away. That is what we would be doing if we were actually seeking a real solution to a real problem. But the government will not consider this option, and I am afraid that I cannot escape the conclusion that it is sticking to its current policy purely because it believes it is a vote winner. They are especially keen on their being a legal battle with “bleeding heart liberal lawyers” which will help their culture war narrative.  It is so utterly transparent, it’s an insult to our intelligence as well as to basic decency.