A Thanet councillor who was eventually granted British citizenship after fleeing Iraq has condemned the government announcement that people arriving in the UK through ‘illegal routes’ may be sent to the east African country of Rwanda.
On Thursday Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the new Migration and Economic Development Partnership saying it “will mean that anyone entering the UK illegally – as well as those who have arrived illegally since January 1st – may now be relocated to Rwanda.”
The Prime Minister added: “This innovative approach – driven by our shared humanitarian impulse and made possible by Brexit freedoms – will provide safe and legal routes for asylum, while disrupting the business model of the (people smuggling) gangs, because it means that economic migrants taking advantage of the asylum system will not get to stay in the UK, while those in genuine need will be properly protected, including with access to legal services on arrival in Rwanda, and given the opportunity to build a new life in that dynamic country, supported by the funding we are providing.
“The deal we have done is uncapped and Rwanda will have the capacity to resettle tens of thousands of people in the years ahead.
“And let’s be clear, Rwanda is one of the safest countries in the world, globally recognised for its record on welcoming and integrating migrants.”
The PM says this scheme will combat the people smuggling trade, particularly small boats crossing the Channel. The plan runs alongside government spending on new asylum processing centres, including at Manston, and the Royal Navy taking over operational command from Border Force in the Channel.
Aram Rawf arrived in the UK as a 17-year-old after fleeing Iraq in the back of a lorry. He had been taken to a mountain camp in northern Iraq – previously Kurdistan – and tortured by extremists for two month after he refused to train as a suicide bomber.
A ruse by his older sister saw him taken to hospital and then on to his escape.
More than twenty years later Aram is a British citizen, a Labour Party Thanet councillor, a volunteer and a campaigner.
The Iraq/Iran war ended in 1988 but thousands of Kurdish people were killed in a poison gas attack by the Iraqi regime. In 1991 there were hundreds of thousands more killed during a failed Kurdish rising, Saddam Hussein then imposed a blockade on the Kurdish controlled area of northern Iraq. Faction groups became embroiled in civil war with one side receiving backing from Hussein’s troops.
The 40-year-old, who lives and works in Broadstairs, said: “Boris Johnson’s government has reached a new low with the latest ruling on sending refugees to Rwanda. Britain is short of workers, the NHS has huge staff vacancies. Having alienated European workers the government now wants them again. Yet it is prepared to spend a fortune flying people to Rwanda to meet their fate in a country condemned on its human rights record and thousands of miles from anyone who can check on their safety.
“What kind of thinking is this? It won’t stop refugees fleeing disasters or war or dictatorships. Common humanity is completely lacking in this policy as is basic common sense. And if you think Manston airport should be saved, are you willing to see flights leaving there with people being taken to an uncertain and possibly lethal future?
“Boris is creating a distraction from partygate and appealing to the worst elements in his supporters in the hope it will influence the local elections next year.
“As a former asylum seeker I condemn this policy wholeheartedly and as a human being I condemn the politicians who can invent such cruelty.”
Rwanda and charity response to the plan
In 1994 ethnic genocide in Rwanda left up to 800,000 Tutsi people dead. The genocide ended when the Tutsi-dominated rebel movement, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), captured Kigali. The RPF overthrew the Hutu government and seized power. Since then, there has been massive progress in uniting and rebuilding the country and there has been strong economic growth. However, around 39.1% of people in Rwanda still live in poverty and a report by Human Rights Watch in 2020 said credible sources claimed arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, and torture in official and unofficial detention facilities, continued.
The relocation to Rwanda deal has also been criticised by charities.
Zoë Abrams, executive director at the British Red Cross, said: “We are profoundly concerned that the UK Government is proposing to send traumatised people half-way round the world to Rwanda.
“The financial and human cost will be considerable; evidence from where offshoring has been implemented elsewhere shows it leads to real human suffering, plus the bill that taxpayers will be asked to foot is likely to be huge.
“We are not convinced this drastic measure will deter desperate people from attempting to cross the Channel either. People come here for reasons we can all understand, like wanting to be reunited with loved ones, or because they speak the language. Making it harsher may do little to stop them risking their lives.”
The charity is asking Government to urgently rethink the plans.
Government says it is “confident” that the deal is fully compliant with international legal obligations although the PM said he expected it to be challenged in the courts.
The PM added: “I know there will be a vocal minority who will think these measures are draconian and lacking in compassion. I simply don’t agree.
“There is no humanity or compassion in allowing desperate and innocent people to have their dreams of a better life exploited by ruthless gangs, as they are taken to their deaths in unseaworthy boats.
“And there is no humanity or compassion in endlessly condemning the people smugglers, but then time and again ducking the big calls needed to break the business model of the gangs and stop these boats coming.
“And there is no humanity or compassion in calling for unlimited safe and legal routes, offering the false hope of asylum in the UK to anyone who wants it, because that is just unsustainable.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel says Rwanda has one of the strongest records of refugee resettlement and in recent years has resettled over 100,000 refugees.
She added: “Those who are resettled will be given support, including up to five years of training to help with integration, accommodation, and healthcare, so that they can resettle and thrive.
“As part of this ground-breaking agreement, the UK is making a substantial investment in the economic development of Rwanda.
“This will support programmes to improve the lives of the people in Rwanda and develop the country, economy, job prospects, and opportunities. In addition, the UK will provide funding and expertise to implement this agreement.”