The Home Secretary’s Treatment of Refugees With No Safe Route is Racist - Not the ECHR

20 June 2022

After the hugely embarrassing and costly failure of that Rwanda flight, Priti Patel now claims that the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) is “racist” for preventing the UK from sending refugees - including torture survivors - to Rwanda. It is the decision to dump war refugees from Africa and the Middle East in Rwanda - with a questionable human rights record - while providing safe routes to refugees from Ukraine - that is racist.

It is disturbing that this government’s reaction to the stopping of the Rwanda flight is to have a tantrum about a ‘foreign’ court, to call it ‘racist’ and suggest tagging refugees. There is not a flicker of shame at breaching people’s human rights. Just the demand for more of it. 

The ECHR is an International Court in which British judges also sit: it imposed Rule 39 after it found a real risk of inhuman and degrading treatment (Art. 3 ECHR) if the UK deportations went ahead.

The decision to dump war refugees arriving in boats to Rwanda while providing safe routes to refugees from Ukraine is racist.

Calling refugees from Syria or Yemen or Iraq  “illegal immigrants” - before their claim has even been considered - is racist.

The abject failure to provide a viable safe route to refugees from Africa and the Middle East, who then risk their lives on dangerous journeys to get here is racist. (Over 4,000 people drowned trying to reach sanctuary in Europe in 2021). 

Patel asks how and why the ECHR made its decision. It’s pretty obvious. The UK is obliged under the Refugee Convention to allow refugees in. 

What she has done is attempt to dump refugees who arrive by “irregular” means in Rwanda. Once their asylum claim is heard, if successful, they will be given asylum in Rwanda, not Britain. It is an immoral policy that shames this country. 

Instead of reconsidering the Rwanda policy and accepting she was wrong - given that ECHR and UN had intervened - the reaction of this Home Secretary is to try and get rid of their oversight. Like being caught drink-driving and then reacting by scrapping the drink-driving laws.

Refugees go to countries where it is easiest to find work and resettle and rebuild their lives. The reason a tiny fraction of the world's refugees try to come to the UK is to do with familial connections, language connections, and for work or study. Anyone who has little or no connections to Rwanda is unlikely to be able to resettle there. Wandering destitute without support or a family or community or even a common language or cultural heritage is hardly what one would call resettlement.

The government claims its Rwanda policy will reduce the number of “migrant boats” crossing the Channel. Yet the number of people arriving here is higher than ever. 

Because governments across Europe  have created safe, legal  routes for them, the Ukrainians are exercising their freedom to choose which country togo to as a result of the war. That’s why you don’t find a single one taking dinghies across the channel or drowning in their thousands in the Mediterranean each year. Sadly, the UK  government has chosen not to provide a safe route for Syrians, Iranians, Yemenis and others. They are not jumping a queue, and they are not “choosing to drown”. They simply have no choice. It is the government that has chosen to declare their arrival “illegal”.

Patel claims the ECHR decision was politically motivated. It’s a ridiculous claim. The huge embarrassment of the failed flight raises questions about her motivation for spending half a million pounds of taxpayers’ money on transporting no refugees. 

The number of refugees is growing in the world - and currently stands at 100M. There are around 100,000 asylum seekers already here, waiting years in a depressing mix of poverty and fear for their asylum claims to be assessed. There are refugee doctors, teachers, scientists and others who are forbidden to work, living on between £8 and £35 a week. Patel goes on about how it’s costing £5M a day to keep them in hotels. This is her failure as Home Secretary, not the failure of refugees who are stuck in the asylum regime. It is the failure to sort out Home Office delays which means refugees are wasting years at the cost of their mental health for decisions about their future here; it is the failure to think imaginatively and humanely about providing decent housing for everyone; it is the absolute failure to allow refugees to work and pay taxes as soon as they get here. 

This Home Secretary is playing dog whistle politics as never before. This “daughter of immigrants” is keen to pander to the far right “go back to where you came from” mob by offloading refugees to Rwanda, one of the most overcrowded countries on the planet. Already, she says she is planning another flight at the cost of taxpayers’ money before a judicial review determines whether the policy is even legal. She can throw all the kitchen sinks she likes at the ECHR ruling; her costly and racist Rwanda policy will (rightly) breed more protests, legal actions and acts of civil disobedience. 

The ECHR was forged by British lawyers in the aftermath of the Holocaust to protect all human rights. Yet the Home Secretary appears to question whether there is a future for the UK as a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, claiming in The Times on June 19, “I’m not an advocate of European institutions”. Tell that to the survivors of the Holocaust. 

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