Ruling on Rwanda is a win for decency

Published by The i paper (30th June, 2023)

What a fine start to the day. First came a forceful report from the Conservative-dominated Privileges Committee condemning the Boris Johnson fan club’s attempts to interfere over the “Partygate” probe into the shamed former prime minister, which could potentially lead to the suspension from Parliament of Priti Patel, Michael Fabricant and Jacob Rees-Mogg. Moments later came news of a ruling by the Court of Appeal that the most repulsive legacy of this gang’s populist takeover of the Tory party – the plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda  – was unlawful on the grounds that the central African country is unsafe.

The decision is unsurprising, given the bloodstained nature of the sinister regime in Kigali, although it is disturbing that Lord Burnett, the Lord Chief Justice, dissented from the majority verdict on this contemptible policy. His clear-sighted colleagues rightly pointed out the lack of judicial independence and risk of torture in Rwanda, while highlighting the naivety of British officials in trusting such a dictatorship or its protection of refugees, including from being returned home and persecuted.

This is, after all, a state that shot dead protesting refugees in the past, then killed others who tried to assist the wounded casualties. It is also allegedly backing a rebel militia over the Congolese border carrying out horrific war crimes including massacres and the raping of men in front of their wives and children.

These atrocities highlight the gross irony in our Government’s desire to send asylum seekers into the arms of a dictatorship responsible for inflaming conflicts that have forced millions of people to flee their homes this century.

A report by Human Rights Watch earlier this month quotes a mother of six in her forties who fled the flare-up of fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo border region with her 75-year-old mother. This petrified family ran into members of the M23 militia. “They wanted to rape us,” she said. “My mother said ‘no’, so they shot a bullet into her chest and she died on the spot. Then four of them raped me. As they were raping me, one said: ‘We’ve come from Rwanda to destroy you.’”

Another one million people have been displaced by the renewed hostilities in this border region. Yet the Conservative Government – which boasts endlessly about its global leadership in the fight against autocracy and external aggression in Ukraine – claims the savage dictatorship of Paul Kagame, which bears such strong parallels to Vladimir Putin’s evil regime, is a suitable destination for people who are seeking asylum on our shores.

This is a sickening betrayal of our democratic values as well an insult to all those people killed, locked up or exiled in fighting for human rights in Rwanda. It is also a grim waste of time and money to pursue such a policy that will make virtually no difference to the challenging issues it claims to address.

Britain has poured huge sums of aid already into Kagame’s pocket during his long reign of fear. Now our Government has handed his dictatorship an additional £120m to prepare the ground for this headline-grabbing idea that so excites the hard-right. Last week, we discovered it could cost taxpayers almost £170,000 for each person sent to Rwanda, which is about £63,000 more than if they were processed through the existing system.

The Prime Minister says “everyone” who crosses the Channel illegally must know they will go to “Kigali, not King’s Cross”. Last year 45,755 men, women and children used small boats to reach the UK, most of whom claimed asylum. Sunder Katwala, of the British Future think-tank, suggests the Rwandan system may struggle to take even a couple of hundred people a year, while the UN refugee agency says the policy breaches international law.

It is depressing that Sunak seems determined to push ahead with this crass and costly stunt. His insistence “Rwanda is a safe country” and bid to appeal to the Supreme Court simply underscores how little the Tories have moved on from the catastrophic populism of his two predecessors.

This is performative politics at its most pathetic. It is a policy designed to look tough and provoke heated debate in order to divert attention from the shocking systemic failures that have seen the backlog of asylum cases – and consequent costs to taxpayers – soar due to persistent Home Office ineptitude, abject political failures and the lack of safe routes for many refugees.

Britain still receives far fewer asylum claims than France or Germany – and for all the furore over small boats, the vast bulk of refugees stay in neighbouring nations to their own and in developing regions of the world. Meanwhile, our asylum system has been swamped by sheer incompetence – and in response, we see floundering ministers and their supporters lash out at others for their own failings as they ramp up rhetoric.

Toxic voices such as the populist Professor Matt Goodwin glibly claim this Court of Appeal decision is “a huge opportunity” and urge the Prime Minister to “turn the volume up all the way to 10”. Perhaps they should note how polls indicate judges are five times more likely to be trusted by the public than politicians.

This stunt supposed to stop the small boats is the sort of game played by Donald Trump in the United States, then imported by Boris Johnson. It should have been dumped by Sunak if he was genuine about his stated mission to restore trust and integrity to politics.

Instead, he presses on blithely like a blinkered mule, highlighting suspicions that the worn-out Tories lack serious responses to big issues of our age. Ultimately, the Prime Minister’s continuing effort to dispatch a few refugees to Rwanda demeans his Government, undermines the cause of democracy and demonstrates that he remains a hostage of the populist right that has done such corrosive damage to both his party and the country.

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