The Independent reported in December 2020 that Chris Philp, the UK parliamentary under-secretary of state for immigration compliance and justice, had “refused to rule out sending asylum seekers to a remote island or disused oil platforms, or creating a ‘giant wave machine'” to repel migrant-bearing dinghies in the English Channel.
Now, Britain’s Conservatives have developed an even better migration solution: the UK will simply deport asylum applicants to Rwanda, an African country nearly 6,500 kilometers (4,000 miles) away. And the new strategy is already causing a stir. “How much more darkly crazy the global border regime will become is horrifying,” wrote John Washington, author of The Dispossessed: A Story of Asylum at the US-Mexican Border and Beyond, on Twitter.
The refugee-outsourcing agreement was formalized on April 14 when British Home Secretary Priti Patel flew into Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, and tweeted a video describing what this “world-first migration collaboration” will entail. It will not only “set a new standard for managing migration” and “break the business model of people-smuggling gangs,” but it will also “assist in the repair of the broken asylum system” by having Rwanda “process asylum claims of those making dangerous, illegal, or unnecessary journeys to the United Kingdom.”
Asylum seekers who are ultimately determined by Rwanda to have legitimately journeyed dangerously, illegally, or unnecessarily to the UK will be allowed to live in, um, Rwanda – where, as the BBC points out, the UK has “demanded investigations into alleged killings, disappearances, and torture,” as well as expressing concern over the current Rwandan government and President Paul Kagame’s overall “human rights record.” What do you call that, a “business model”?
While the worldwide asylum system is unquestionably “broken,” the solution does not lie in abolishing the notion of refuge or in illegally offshore migrant mistreatment.
The UK-Rwandan “world-first migration partnership” is also not as revolutionary as it claims to be, having been openly inspired by current Australian offshore detention activities on the island nation of Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island – both of which have served as Petri dishes for migrant suicide, self-harm, and general suffering. Human Rights Watch also points out the “exorbitant” cost of Australian state brutality: “A single asylum seeker on Papua New Guinea or Nauru costs roughly AUD $3.4 million (£1.8 million) a year,” according to Human Rights Watch.
To be sure, this figure appears to obliterate the official UK claim that the Rwanda operation will save British taxpayers money in some way. But, hey, there’s nothing like a good Migrant Menace to divert attention away from domestic embarrassments like Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s arrest for coronavirus lockdown violations, often known as the “Partygate” controversy – speaking of “dangerous, illegal, or unnecessary” activities.
Meanwhile, the US has set a number of precedents that have weakened asylum claims, such as the Trump administration’s so-called “safe third country agreement” with Guatemala, which allowed the US to deport asylum seekers to a country that was not at all safe and was a major source of refugees in the first place. Then there’s the Trump-era Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program, which effectively involves forcing vulnerable migrants to risk their lives while waiting for their asylum claims to be processed in the US in Mexico — another major source of refugees.
Of course, Rwanda has produced its fair share of refugees – but the expulsion of tens of thousands of asylum seekers to the landlocked country is “the morally right thing to do, the humane and compassionate thing to do,” according to Prime Minister Johnson, because it will disrupt the enterprising efforts of “vile people smugglers” who have turned the sea into a “watery graveyard.”
Never mind that the ocean has only become a graveyard as a result of the world’s enterprisingly xenophobic powers that be criminalizing migration – or that the UK has played a significant role in converting much of the world beyond the ocean into a graveyard, as well as cultivating the landscapes of persecution and tyranny that drive people to migrate.
Despite history and reality, Patel announced in Kigali that “our New Plan for Immigration will strengthen support for individuals directly fleeing oppression, persecution, and tyranny.” She also insisted that “access to the UK’s asylum system must be based on need, not on the ability to pay people smugglers” – as if the two scenarios are mutually exclusive, and as if someone who sells everything they own to scrape together enough money to flee a country in search of perceived safety is not in “need.”
According to the Guardian, Secretary of State for Wales Simon Hart described the Rwanda agreement as aimed at “improving the opportunities for those who have traversed half the world at great emotional, personal, and financial expenditure.” And what better way to boost their chances than to send them halfway around the world again? “We take pride in our ‘country of sanctuary’ title,” Hart said of the United Kingdom because nothing says “nation of sanctuary” like one oppressive state dumping thousands of people into another oppressive one 4,000 miles away.