The government have announced today that they will introduce “offshore processing” of asylum claims by detaining people seeking asylum in Rwanda while they wait to have their claims decided. GMIAU wholeheartedly opposes these plans. The idea of “offshoring” the asylum process is dehumanising, degrading and an abdication of moral responsibility towards people fleeing violence and persecution. This is part of a raft of hostile and vicious legislation brought in by the UK government, whose Nationality and Borders Bill risks breaking international refugee law and attacks the right to seek asylum itself. 

The Home Secretary claims the offshore processing plans will act as a deterrent to people making dangerous journeys to seek asylum in the UK, although it’s not clear that there is evidence for this claim. It is clear that people crossing the Channel in small boats to reach the UK have undergone unimaginably difficult journeys out of desperation. The idea of putting the same people on a plane to Rwanda is as absurd as it is cruel. The huge amount that offshoring would cost and the dangers it poses has meant that even MPs from Priti Patel’s own party have felt compelled to speak out against it. Conservative MP David Davis called offshoring “barbaric” while Andrew Mitchell condemned the millions it would cost taxpayers: “It would be much cheaper to put each one in the The Ritz and send all the under-18s to Eton.”

At GMIAU we have represented people seeking asylum from Rwanda whose claims have been accepted and they have been granted refugee status. This means the government have agreed that it’s not a safe country for those people – so how can it be a safe place for the UK’s asylum processing to happen? Concerns have been raised in particular for the safety of LGBTQI+ asylum seekers in a country where they may face ill treatment and abuse. More generally, offshore processing creates a huge risk of human rights abuses. Human Rights Watch have warned against other countries introducing it after its disastrous outcomes in Australia: “Individuals and families with children spent years living in substandard conditions in these centers, where they suffered severe abuse, inhumane treatment, and medical neglect.”

This announcement clearly comes as an attempted distraction from negative media coverage about the Prime Minister and the government; vulnerable people are once again being used as a political football, and as scapegoats for the government’s failings. Similarly, the Nationality and Borders Bill itself is a distraction from the failings of an asylum system plagued by poor decision-making, lengthy delays and inadequate asylum support. None of those problems will be resolved by the measures in the Bill, which does nothing to improve the system or to create safe routes to prevent people risking their lives to get to the UK. 

People seek safety in the UK for a variety of reasons. Coverage of recent events in Ukraine and, before that, Afghanistan have made vivid the desperation and horror of losing your home and needing to flee for your life. At a time when thousands have offered to open their homes to refugees and when 2/3 of the country disagrees with the government’s plans to deny refugees rights based on their method of travel, yet more cruelty towards the most vulnerable is not what the public wants. We reject the scapegoating of people seeking asylum and call on the government to scrap plans for offshore processing.

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