Rishi Sunak faced another setback on Monday when peers in the House of Lords refused to ratify the new treaty with Rwanda. There is now increasing evidence that the Prime Minister has backed himself into a corner with his commitment to a policy that is seen as illegal, immoral and unworkable by many, or not having gone far enough by those on the right of the party. Robert Jenrick, who was Minister of State for Immigration, stood down after it was revealed that the legislation did not allow the government to override the international laws that stopped the government from sending asylum seekers to central Africa.
To appease this nasty and increasingly vocal wing of the party, Sunak is falling over himself to present himself as the ‘hard man’ of the Tory party on immigration. He should be reminded that ‘if you sup with the devil, you had better have a long spoon.’
The treaty is a last desperate attempt by the government to meet the concerns of the Supreme Court which felt there were insufficient protections in place. It was signed with a huge fanfare by James Cleverly, the Home Secretary, and the Rwandan Foreign Minister, Dr. Vincent Biruta, in Kigali, Rwanda, on 5th December 2023.
It followed an earlier memorandum of understanding signed in April 2022. The Government hopes to send people who arrive here, through so called illegal and dangerous routes, to Rwanda. Their asylum claims will then be processed in that country. If successful, they will be allowed to stay in Rwanda. They will not be allowed to return to the UK.
The Home Office says the assurances in the newly drafted treaty are clear. People relocated to Rwanda are not at risk of being returned to a country where their life or freedom would be threatened if their asylum claims are turned down.
However, the vote of 214 to 171 was influenced by a report published by the House of Lords International Agreements Committee (IAC) who are not convinced by the protections offered in the treaty. The conclusions are clear: “The government should not ratify the treaty until Parliament is satisfied that the protections it provides have been fully implemented.”
This is thought to be the first time the Lords has voted against the ratification of a treaty. It also represents a significant moment in the ongoing debate over the Safety of Rwanda Bill and its implications for asylum and immigration policy in the UK.
Along with the Supreme Court rulings, legal analysis, published by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) on Monday is clear that the transfer of asylum seekers under the UK’s new Rwanda arrangement violates international law. It stresses that the deal is an attempt by the UK to transfer its international obligations of protecting refugees and asylum seekers.
At the same time, asylum seekers feel that their views on the scheme have been ignored and that they are being used as a political football by politicians.
Their concerns about safety have been reinforced by Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, a Rwandan opposition leader, who argues that Rwanda is not a free country, because political rights are restricted, and civil liberties are curbed. She also points out that Rwanda remains one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world and the most unequal country in the East Africa region.
Threatening asylum seekers with removal to Rwanda is seen by many as a form of psychological torture. The policy has changed the perception of the UK as a country where freedom of speech is respected.
The Rwanda policy is just one example of the UK’s inhumane approach to people from war-torn countries across the world in desperate need of help and support. People seeking asylum receive little financial support and are not allowed to work. They can be detained indefinitely. Those with newly granted refugee status often face destitution and homelessness, and resettlement programmes only provide a lifeline for a fraction of those in need.
However, when it comes to becoming involved in American-led conflicts across the globe, the UK is not so reticent. Many of the refugees risking their lives in flimsy boats to reach sanctuary here are from countries such as Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Afghanistan whose infrastructures have either been destroyed by American/NATO bombs or have been abandoned when they are no longer useful.
At the same time our government is supporting Israel in its quest to wipe Palestine off the map, having already displaced 90% of the population, and is attacking one of the poorest countries in Western Asia, Yemen. Bombs continue to be the favoured method of conflict resolution. Sadly, dealing with the catastrophic humanitarian fallout is not a priority.
Rwanda will not save Rishi Sunak’s political skin. It will merely add fuel to the fire of the aggrieved far right of the party.