OPINION - Rwanda migrant flight battle goes to the wire

·3-min read
 (West End Final)
(West End Final)

I don’t feel great about today’s subject line. It injects a level of manufactured drama into a situation where the fate of actual human beings, not extras in a Michael Bay film, is being decided.

Not least because it appears that ministers aren’t particularly bothered by whether today’s flight to Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, has one passenger or 100. The medium is the message.

It bears repeating that asylum seekers being sent 4,000 miles south are not having their cases processed in Rwanda with those successful being returned to the UK. They are staying there (or leaving of their own accord and under their own steam) regardless of the validity of their claim.

This matters because asylum seekers from a number of countries have an exceptionally high rate of success. According to the Home Office’s own figures, in the year ending March 2022, the UK granted asylum to 88% of applicants from Iran, 91% from Afghanistan, 95% from Sudan, 97% from Eritrea and 98% from Syria.

That means if you are a Syrian making an asylum claim in the UK, until recently you had a 98% chance of being granted protection. But instead, we are handing some (though by no means all) a one-way ticket to Rwanda, a county led by an autocratic regime where, according to Human Rights Watch:

“Arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, and torture in official and unofficial detention facilities is commonplace” while “the mistreatment of street children, sex workers and petty vendors occurs widely.” Here’s more on refugees living in Rwanda warning of the challenges facing those arriving from Britain.

Like the decision on the Northern Ireland Protocol, this is about politics. With Conservative MPs circling around the decaying political capital of the Prime Minister, yesterday we had Liz Truss playing to the Brexiteer right of the party. Today is the turn of Priti Patel and the immigration hardliners.

This is not to suggest there is a secret, cost-free solution the Government is ignoring. Immigration and asylum policy is full of difficult choices and highly emotive cases. The people smuggling trade is horrific, the risks of channel (and Mediterranean) crossings are real. But other options do exist, from safe routes where people can legally claim asylum from afar to allowing applicants to fly in without visas in order to make claims.

In 2021, the number of migrants arriving in small boats hit 28,256. As our Home Affairs Editor Martin Bentham points out, that is a record, but not huge in comparison with recent annual net migration figures which reached the hundreds of thousands.

Of course, a grown-up discussion on the pros and cons of onshoring versus offshoring or how to manage push and pull factors do not make as good a headline as ‘Government takes tough action’, ‘lefty lawyers block the people’s will’ or, indeed, ‘Rwanda flight battle goes down to the wire.’

Elsewhere in the paper, today marks the fifth anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire, in which 72 people died. In the period leading up to the fire, residents warned of their safety fears about the building, to little avail. Five years on, no individuals or companies have been charged over the fire so far.

Writing in today’s paper, Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy says that today he thinks of his friend Khadija Saye, and each of the other 71 victims, who perished, and vows ‘never again’. But are London’s tower blocks any safer?

Meanwhile, our Campaigns Editor, David Cohen, reflects on the stories of the survivors, who tell him their trauma will last until prosecutions start.

And finally, after a necessarily pretty heavy newsletter, I was looking for some light relief and came across Arts Editor Nancy Durrant’s review of the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition. Unfortunately, it has the headline “The end is nigh, so why not buy art?“ Still, four stars, and the RA exhibition means summer is truly here.

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