Photo: Activists in London participating in a protest against racism, holding a Care4Calais banner, an organisation which provides essential basics and legal support for asylum seekers in Belgium, France and the UK (19 March 2022).
ROAPE’s Hannah Cross writes that the UK government’s policy to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda has been ruled unlawful by the Court of Appeal. Asylum seekers, the court argued, risked being returned to their home country and could face inhumane treatment and persecution. Paul Kagame’s Rwanda, with the complicity of Western media and international financial institutions, has been presented as a successful developmental state, but in reality it is a place of systematic state brutality.
A MAJOR contradiction of free market capitalism is that, for all its ‘imperfections’, it is supposed to end feudalism, creating free circulation in the labour market and bringing political equality to people ruled by an impartial market. Yet as it accelerates, these market relations can only hold with authoritarian state intervention, repression, and more imposition of feudal relations. Hence a government that has no interest in controlling the destructive profiteering of the private sector, while growing numbers of people lose access to the necessities of life, does all it can to elevate aristocratic rule, stimulate divisive nationalism, and intervene heavily in the movement of people.
The force of the UK governments fascist-inspired efforts to remove political freedoms has advanced with the force of economic chaos facing the majority. Recent developments suggest some of its efforts are failing, but it will fight on. The House of Lords, including Conservative peers (from the governing party), brought wrecking amendments to the illegal Migration Bill last week. These would require the government to abide by international human rights conventions, allow unaccompanied children to claim asylum, and stop potential victims of human trafficking from being detained or deported before their cases are heard. Further amendments passed on Monday concerning deportation, detention and processing limits for LGBTQ+ migrants, pregnant women and children, and asylum seekers in general.
The government’s policy to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda has been ruled unlawful by the Court of Appeal. After the High Court had ruled that Rwanda was a ‘safe third country’, this case brought by asylum seekers and Action Aid reversed the decision, finding that asylum seekers risked being returned to their home country and could face inhumane treatment and persecution. The Home Office itself, with the remit of enforcing the policy, has found it unworkable. This week, it reported that the plan would cost £169,000 per person, significantly higher than the cost of housing asylum seekers in the UK.
Lawyers at the Court of Appeal argued that the High Court showed ‘excessive deference’ to the Home Office leadership’s assurances that deportees would be protected. The material provided by the Rwandan authorities was lacking in credibility, with ‘blanket denials and clear contradictions.’ It is barely credible that the successive Home Secretaries leading the Rwanda policy are assured of the safety of the policy.
Last year, the Public and Commercial Services Union, which represents Home Office members, joined asylum seekers, Care4Calais and Detention Action in a case which prevented the deportation of eight asylum seekers and showed that Rwanda was an unsafe country, with the possibility of forced conscription for those sent there after fleeing war-torn countries. Home Secretary Priti Patel was found to have ignored the Foreign Office warning of human rights abuses.
Paul Kagame’s Rwanda, with the complicity of Western media and international financial institutions, has been presented as a successful developmental state, working with donors to achieve high development indicators. From 2015 onwards, researchers in ROAPE challenged this narrative and the claims of a ‘Green Revolution’ in which neoliberal agrarian modernisation had brought widespread benefits to the country’s rural populations. Some of the researchers had to publish anonymously for fear of reprisal by the state in Kigali, while the veracity of their data was followed up by a Financial Times investigation into the country’s poverty statistics. The terrible finding that there had been a true increase in poverty did not only damage the credibility of the state’s top-down developmentalism, but also of the World Bank, which endorsed its data, the IMF, and bilateral donors.
As for the politics of the regime, its bureaucratic state apparatus and spatial planning lends itself to the outsourcing of detention centres, while state violence has included the killing of refugees. An investigation last year found that a 13th Congolese refugee had been shot dead at the hands of state authorities, months after 12 protestors from the Kibiza camp were killed in 2018.
Human and economic cost
Suella Braverman, who praises the opportunities offered for asylum seekers entering Rwanda, is backed by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak as she fights back for her flagship policy. The fightback is built on further unsubstantiated claims and deceptions. The idea that the human and economic cost of the Rwanda plan is justified because it would deter channel crossings might have a twisted logic if France were a safe country for refugees and onward migration were a choice.
However, it is not: if asylum seekers are coming from countries outside Europe and are racially identified, they find themselves destitute and suffer physical violence, humiliation and the destruction of shelter, food, and water supplies by the French authorities.
Brexit opened up the possibility of asylum in the UK because the Dublin convention, which allows governments to return people to the European countries they have passed through, could no longer be enacted; thus, English-speaking refugees and those with potential connections to the country might have some chance here of finding safety, building a tolerable life and supporting their families, no matter how risky and hostile their reception.
This forced condition of migration exposes the emptiness of Braverman’s repeated suggestions that all the world would come to the UK if it could, so harsh penalties are necessary. Her argument shows an arrogance that ignores the ways that people are uprooted from their lives in specific circumstances, are torn from their families and struggle to find safety anywhere. Britain has a role in many of these upheavals, including in Sudan’s counter-revolution. Moreover, it has contributed significantly to Fortress Europe and its militarised borders, as well as to its failure to find a workable asylum policy, and this has created the conditions for irregular migration.
Lies and more lies
Because most migration is not by choice, the closure of legal and safe routes does not deter people or fundamentally reduce numbers. It makes the journey unsafe and kills people. This is borne out by the terror that the Rwanda policy announcement brought to refugees in Calais in early June 2022, yet the channel crossings increased in the summer and have continued in their thousands this year, with Afghans becoming the largest nationality.
Nor are there any grounds to the repeated claims that the Rwanda policy would be ‘the will of the people’: this government and its new programme is not even elected by the people. And one further lie, that the Labour Party – the country’s main opposition party – has been particularly complicit in, is that the fight against ‘illegal immigration’ is a fight against the traffickers and smugglers, when in reality it is migrants and their dependants who suffer the brunt of it, and smugglers are often in a similar situation. Considering the layers of deception on which the policy flounders, it is remarkable that an opposition party led by a barrister has done little more than mock the failure of the policy to reject the people arriving in boats.
If government’s appeal for the Rwanda policy succeeds, the main victory for the Tories will be that they are no longer restrained by international law or a functioning democratic state in its narrowest sense, and this will embolden their suppression of any threats to their survival, domestic and international. The decisions of the Court of Appeal and House of Lords, and Home Office scrutiny, might give the sense of having the ‘good governance’ and democracy that British policymakers claim to offer the Global South.
However, the terrible conditions of indefinite detention that asylum seekers face and the failure to protect children, the ‘unfree’ labour that British production relies on, and the prosecution of dissenters, all coexist with military and economic imperialism in parts of Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere. The Rwanda policy would be a further step to an illiberalism that is already deeply embedded in the state and most evident in its external relations. We can find surprising alliances in its resistance and must retain the internationalist class perspective in the first instance.
A version of this blogpost was first published as ‘Floundering in the depths of deception – new blows to the government’s deportation policy’ on the Counterfire website.
Hannah Cross is author of Migrants, Borders and Global Capitalism: West African labour mobility and EU borders, Routledge 2013 and the new book Migration Beyond Capitalism. She is a senior lecturer in International Relations at the University of Westminster, and the Chair of ROAPE’s Editorial Working Group.