Britain is in the forefront of countries which emphasise the need to uphold human rights. British non-governmental organisations (NGOs) regularly issue reports on human rights records of developing countries. It is ironic that while preaching to the world, Britain overlooks its own record of brutal colonialism and exploitation which led to the accumulation of capital, which in turn led to its prosperity. The era of colonialism may have ended but some British attitudes and policies continue to be imbued with more than a colonial and exploitative tinge. One such policy which is still present (though the British government has not been able to implement it so far) is to send some asylum seekers to Rwanda. In a recent long report on racism in Britain through history, CNN reported “The government is pressing ahead with plans to send to Rwanda hundreds—eventually tens of thousands—of men who arrive in the country from the Middle East, Asia and Africa seeking asylum. The government calls them “illegal” migrants because they arrive by boats”.
The British government reached a Memorandum of Understanding with the Rwanda government in April this year to send some men seeking asylum in Britain to that country. After reaching Rwanda these persons could apply for asylum there or try to go to third countries. In effect the British authorities were really washing their hands of these asylum seekers and paying Rwanda for taking such persons off their hands. The justification given by Boris Johnson, then the British Prime Minister, for formulating such a racist policy was that through this action Britain would deter those who risked life and limb to try to enter Britain via boats through the English Channel. Naturally, these asylum seekers had, in most cases, entered Britain through the machinations of human traffickers; human trafficking is an international criminal enterprise, hardly less sinister, then narco-trafficking. Boris Johnson’s arguments found little favour with a number of important British institutions and influential individuals, including some members of the clergy, though it was upheld till then by the country’s courts.
The first flight of asylum seekers was to leave Britain for Rwanda in June. It was stopped at the last moment because of the intervention of the European Court of Human Rights. This Court held that the no flight should take off till the British courts had taken a final decision on the judicial review proceedings had been taken. The British government, unhappy with the European Court’s intervention, announced that it remained committed to the policy. The Rwandan authorities too indicated that they would go by the agreement; that was not surprising because Rwanda would get funds for taking in the persons sent to it. The CNN reports makes it clear that the British plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda has not been abandoned.
On its part Rwanda has, in the past, taken in migrants who had entered other countries. In 2018 Israel sent such people Rwanda for relocation. The Rwandan government was monetarily compensated for allowing such persons to enter. Media reports have emerged, over the years, of the sad experiences of such relocated persons in Rwanda. That should have deterred the British government but it did not. Indeed, worse it would seem that the British policy is being considered favourably by at least one other European country.
There is no doubt that illegal migration is an international challenge. Thousands of persons from the developing world are lured by criminal gangs of human traffickers to seek their fortunes in the advanced industrialised countries. At the same time wars and violence also lead to migration. Illegal migration is politically, socially and economically a sensitive issue for all governments. However, the way to handle this global challenge is not through the policy of trying to sending such migrants to other countries. That is simply a way of passing the buck. It cannot deter illegal migration or the activities of human traffickers.
Indeed, the British decision to send male asylum seekers to Rwanda is in some ways akin to some attempts which are made to send dangerous waste from Western countries to developing ones. There are international conventions to prevent the despatch of hazardous waste from developed countries to developing countries but this is sometimes bypassed. A major worldwide concern relates to handling plastic and electronic waste. Many affluent countries find it cheaper to ship some of this waste to developing countries than dealing with it within their own territories. The laws are not rigidly imposed in developing countries in matters relating to solid waste management. Their own people are exposed to health issues in dealing with waste and when foreign waste is added to their own country’s then naturally their exposure to health dangers increases
Many in the British establishment may find a comparison of sending waste to the developing world with its policy of sending some asylum seekers to Rwanda offensive. The point, however, is that the principle is the same: to transfer a problematic issue to the developing world. Of course it can be argued that unlike the waste generated which is by the developed world itself the asylum seekers should not have come to Britain in the first place. This is of course true. So a position can be logically taken that Britain is in a way sending the problem back to the developing world from where it originated. While that argument can be made it cannot go along with exhortations to the developing world on the need to observe human rights. Realism and sanctimonious lessons should not be given simultaneously.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.