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Wednesday, February 21, 2024
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Editorial

The biggest mystery about the row over sending migrants to Rwanda is why the Government is actually doing it.

The numbers involved are tiny when compared to the number of migrants arriving, and the chance of it ever actually working is somewhere between zilch and zero.

It’s clearly an election gambit and shows that Rishi Sunak, despite all his claims to be a fresh start and bringing fresh air to politics, is no better than his predecessors.

One possibility is that – as famously claimed – not everyone who voted for Brexit was a racist (by a long chalk) but that all racists voted for Brexit, and Mr Sunak is now hoping to keep some of the racist voters on side by just being unpleasant to migrants.

But Brexit was never about racism or probably even Europe; it was more about people who had never been listened to by politicians for years, and who voted to leave the EU because it was one in the eye for the men in suits in London. At least their voice was heard, and some probably even welcomed the vague idea of sovereignty (though probably not an unelected prime minister bringing in a man who is not even elected as his foreign secretary).

But that is not racism and trying to pander to them by deporting a few migrants is not going to win many votes; many of the people Mr Sunak is aiming at are probably out there raising money for, or donating food to, refugees.

In case your eyes have glazed over at the very mention of Rwanda in the news and the High Court, the Conservatives’ plan was to send a small number of legal refugees to Rwanda for “processing”.

The two things you need to know (and some Tory MPs did not realise this) is that successful migrants – those who were granted asylum – would not be returned to the UK but stay in Rwanda. Nor were migrants being processed by British officials; they were being dealt with by Rwandans under their rules – so basically, they were being deported to a country from which we accept fleeing migrants.

The Conservatives claimed the scheme would act as a deterrent, because who would want to cross the Channel if they knew they might get sent to Rwanda?

The answer is pretty much anyone, as the Government planned to send only 2-300 migrants to Rwanda, less than come over the Channel on an average day. The Government registered 45,755 people arriving by small boats in 2022, so if you’re prepared to risk fleeing across Europe and cross the Channel in the equivalent of Aldi middle-aisle inflatable, you are probably going to take the very small odds of getting sent to Rwanda.

Sending 300 people to Rwanda a year would also not reduce the backlog of claimants either, as has been claimed. The backlog is generally agreed to have been caused by Government (or at least its home secretaries’) incompetence, and is currently costing a fortune: about 50,000 people are being accommodated in hotels leased by the Government at a cost of £8m a day. The asylum system has cost taxpayers nearly £3.97bn in the past year — nearly double what it was the year before, according to data.

And arrivals by boat accounted for less than half of asylum claims last year anyway. The rise in arrivals “is only a part of the story,” said Peter Walsh, a senior researcher at Oxford’s Migration Observatory, which is generally anti-migration.

Indeed, the “New York Times” covered the story and spoke to two men in Leeds, living on the £9.58 they get a week to spend – asylum seekers are not allowed to work, despite one having a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. He did not arrive by small boat but on a flight that landed in London at Heathrow Airport in July, as did his new friend.

I keep looking out for our politicians aping Donald Trump and they’re getting pretty close over Rwanda. In fact, when you stop and think about all this, it gives you a headache.

The Government says the scheme would act as a deterrent, suggesting Rwanda is not a nice place to be, yet the Government is also arguing that Rwanda is a safe place and an ideal new home for migrants. If that is the case, why is it a deterrent?

Rwanda is not on the UK list of countries from which asylums cannot normally be made, as they are deemed safe; 40 Rwandans have been granted asylum in the UK in recent years. So one arm of Government is saying Rwanda is safe yet at the same time a deterrent, another is accepting migrants because it is not safe.

The Supreme Court settled the question last week when it held that Rwanda was not a safe country and that it would be unlawful for refugees to be removed there.

It also bent over backwards to cite the UK laws that would be broken and relied on the UN for evidence about the dangers of Rwanda, presumably to keep the EU out of it.

But Mr Sunak said he would “not allow a foreign court” to dictate our policy – even though most of the laws cited were our own – and said that he would pass a law that would declare Rwanda a safe country.

If his Government has argued to the court that Rwanda is a safe country, why does he now need a law saying it is after the reality suggested the opposite?

And if he makes a law that Rwanda is safe, will he then have to reject it as unsuitable to act as a deterrent?

This is all up there with Donald Trump saying he won the election when he didn’t. Except that while Mr Trump unsuccessfully fought against reality, Mr Sunak wants to pass a law to make reality different to what it is. It’s all very confusing.

 

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