The Rwanda Flight Was Cancelled - But the fight continues for safe routes and an end to this barbaric policy

15 June 2022

Campaigners and lawyers across the UK are celebrating the cancellation of the inaugural Rwanda flight. 130 asylum seekers were to be effectively dumped in Rwanda with absolutely no support system of any kind, no family connection, no language connection, no cultural connection, no basic guarantee of human rights, no prospect of education, work, or a liveable life, in fact no reason to be there at all. By yesterday, seven were at risk, and in the end no one travelled.

Privilege Style, run by Chema Alvarez, is the only airline to have agreed to traffic refugees to Rwanda. The Company has form, having deported Afghans from Germany to Afghanistan. In 2020, the airline transported refugees in leg shackles to Nigeria.

As Care for Calais said in its statement after leading the charge by taking legal action against the Rwanda flights: 

"Last night’s news was a life saving reprieve for the seven men and their families. Five are victims of torture or trafficking. Two are married.  One has extreme PTSD due to previous trauma. One has a son in Carlisle. They should never have been put through the hell of the last few days. We must remember that every single refugee is a victim of the worst things on this planet. They need our help and our compassion as human beings. Using them as political pawns is unforgivable".

That the Home Secretary - a  “daughter of immigrants” - instigated the Rwanda deal, is frankly sickening. At the eleventh hour of the inaugural Rwanda flight, the ECHR granted Rule 39 request to stop the flight to Rwanda from leaving. The basis was a real risk of inhuman and degrading treatment (Article 3, ECHR). This meant the government must comply. 

The Rwanda policy is utterly barbaric and, given there are more humane and effective alternatives available, a stain on this country's history. 

One would have thought that the Home Secretary would have researched this fact before luring the Rwanda government with the offer of millions in return for taking the UK Government’s unwanted human cargo: war refugees, torture survivors. One would have thought that the Prime Minister of this country would have insisted on due diligence before embarking on such gross stupidity. The failure has been definitive.

The Home Secretary’s reasoning is that this would stop refugees trying to arrive here across the Channel. It hasn’t.  She further reasoned that a removing refugees to Rwanda would stop the people smugglers. It hasn’t. Had this flight succeeded, Priti Patel would have simply added a new route for the people smugglers to profit from: the Rwanda to Europe route. 

If the Government truly wanted to stop people smugglers and save lives they would give other refugees visas and sponsors in the same way as Ukrainians.  This would stop dead the people smuggling business.   

People smuggling took off in 1987 - when safe routes were first blocked

It was U.K. government policy that took human smuggling from being a little known activity to gilt edged stock by 2000. 

In 1987, Douglas Hurd, then Home Secretary of the Conservative party, introduced legislation  to fine airlines carrying undocumented passengers (which meant refugees could not take flights because there is no such thing as a refugee visa). 

People began arriving via ships, lorries, vans, caravans and people carriers. People smugglers sold routes to refugees and immigrants  from non white countries. A series of tragedies scarred the next few years. In 2000, 58 Chinese people suffocated in an airless container. 

In 2000, the then Home Secretary Jack Straw and his Prime Minister Tony Blair extended Hurd’s legislation to cover every means of transport.  The owners of lorries, cars, vans, caravans, camper-vans, people-carriers and trains, as well as planes and ships carrying asylum-seekers or migrants, wittingly or unwittingly, as passengers or stowaways, would be fined and risk confiscation of their vehicles. 

Blair’s legislation closed off the last legitimate escape routes for tens of thousands of people, bringing huge profits to criminals and murderous consequences for people forced to use traffickers to reach the U.K. 

Mental torture continues

With the threat of Rwanda still looming, thousands of asylum seekers across the UK  are suffering mental anguish about their future. They are forbidden to work or contribute to this country's tax base, they are terrified of return, and living in fear of UK asylum policy.

It is hard to believe that the UK Government cares about people smuggling. They simply don't want refugees here. Millions of tax payers money has been spent chasing the wrong objective. An alternative does exist.

Provide Safe routes - Stop People Smuggling

Right now people are taking dangerous risks. By providing refugee visas we know who is coming in - and people smugglers would no longer make money.

We have not seen any Ukrainians getting in small boats or paying people smugglers. That's because safe routes have been opened across Europe for war refugees from Ukraine.

As flawed as it is, the Homes for Ukraine programme has caused thousands of people to open their doors to Ukrainian war refugees seeking shelter, a new life, work, study, even bringing their pets over safely. We know this from the 1,400 or so Ukrainians who have asked our charity to find safe, registered sponsors. You won’t find Ukrainians drowning with their children in the waters of the Channel or the Mediterranean. They have a safe route here. It angers us that we can’t help the Syrians, the Iranians, the people from Yemen because there is no safe route for them to get here. 

Imaginative thinking, humanity and compassion.

Each week, I receive a handful of emails from war refugees in Syria and elsewhere, pleading for a family to sponsor them, they send their passports and educational qualifications. Doctors, academics, professors. It is painful knowing we have thousands of potential hosts  but no way of helping. 

This country does not need another Rwanda flight, we don’t even need to spend that kind of money. Politics and hate needs to be thrown out of the asylum policy of this country.

We need imaginative thinking, humanity and compassion. Thousands of UK families want to offer homes to war refugees from Africa and the Middle East. Thousands. We know this from our Room for Refugees Network, the oldest refugee hosting network in the UK, that has successfully sheltered - and transformed the lives of - more than 4,000 refugees. 

Homes for All War Refugees

A safe route is possible for black and brown  war refugees: Homes for Syria, Homes for Iran, Homes for Iraq, Homes for Eritrea, Homes for Yemen etc. A properly curated matching programme that helps people arrive here to ready made homes, willing families who want to take them in. This would not be a minimal drain on the public purse, certainly it a fraction of the cost of the Rwanda failure. 

The number of refugees in the world is now over 100M. Refugees are not going away, they are coming our way. The choice is clear. Stop the Rwanda Deal and the mental torture that thousands of asylum seekers in the UK are suffering right now. Provide safe routes across Europe and kill off the people smuggling networks. 

Robina Qureshi


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