Rwanda Bill – a racist bill from a racist government

In 2022, the then Johnson Conservative government came up with its Rwanda deportation bill. This racist bill seeks to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda for “processing”. The racist principles of the individuals in the Conservative government who developed this plan are clearly revealed by this bill. It seeks to make exceptions for some – the rich and those from certain selected countries – Ukraine and Hong Kong, but victimise people from other countries, especially African countries. The circumstances of the people fleeing war and oppression in Africa are just as real as those in Ukraine or Hong Kong, but not regarded as such by the racists in the Tory government. They are also fleeing, in large measure from wars and inequalities created by Britain and its allies.


The bill has been opposed consistently by human rights groups as well as by ordinary civil servants, including border force guards in the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS). It has also faced stiff opposition from the House of Lords, who were able to win one minor concession from the government in allowing Afghan interpreters who had worked for the British military to be exempted from the scheme. In November 2023 the UK Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the bill was illegal. The UK has also signed up to the Refugee Convention that determines that a refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats. In February this year, Parliament’s joint Committee on Human Rights declared that the proposed Rwanda law was “fundamentally incompatible” with the UKs human rights obligations and would flout international law.  It has also recently been ruled as illegal by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). In spite of all of this opposition, the government has drafted a bill that ignores international law, allowing the UK government to over-rule the ECHR and its own courts. The bill even instructs British courts to ignore the UK’s own Human Rights Act as well as the UN Refugee Convention.

Rwanda is not considered a safe country by the international community and a majority of Court of Appeal judges have said that Rwanda could not be treated as a safe third country. Ignoring the ECHR is a clear breach of international law but this government cares little for the rule of law even though it promotes itself as a government of law and order. It seeks to enforce this illegal bill as well as deliver many other attacks on human and trade union rights. The government claims that the bill will deter people from arriving in the UK through “illegal and dangerous methods”, such as in small boats across the English Channel and paradoxically states that people arriving in this way would be swiftly deported to Rwanda, even though Rwanda is judged by the international courts as unsafe. Many on the Conservative right would like the bill to be even more extreme and to deny the right to legally challenge deportations which already have an extremely strict and unrealistic timescale. Robert Jenrick (immigration Minister) quit his job in December last year for the bill being “too weak and not fit for purpose.”


The Labour Party’s opposition to the bill, is however, another racist approach that concentrates on criticising the costs of the bill rather than its racist content. Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper described the scheme as “an extraordinarily expensive gimmick” that would cost “half-a-billion pounds for just 300 people to be sent to Rwanda – less than 1% of asylum seekers”. She went onto say the Labour would instead boost border security, go after criminal gangs, enforce stronger powers and intelligence agreements and introduce fast-track systems in the UK for a new returns and enforcement units. In other words, throw money at speeding up the process of returns to France or the country of origin, whilst minimising the plight of asylum seekers and refugees and the circumstances of their fleeing their homeland. The Conservative bill was described by the charity Freedom from Torture in a joint statement with Amnesty International and Liberty as a “shameful bill that trashes the constitution and international law whilst putting torture survivors and other refugees at risk of an unsafe future in Rwanda.”

The scheme will indeed be expensive and there is no evidence to support the view that it will act as a deterrent to desperate people facing war and persecution. In fact, the National Audit Office has stated that the Rwanda deal will cost £1.8 million for each of the first 300 deportees. Mathew Rycroft, the most senior civil servant in the Home Office who has overseen the scheme for two years told MPs that he did not have evidence to show the Rwanda scheme would have a deterrent effect that would prove it to be value for money. A similar scheme in Australia was estimated to cost £1.7 million per asylum seeker and another in Israel has been abandoned for being costly and ineffective.


There is also a risk that once the scheme begins, thousands of asylum seekers will “disappear”, in order to avoid receiving notification that they are being sent to Kigali. Except for some limited exceptions (citizens from Ukraine and Hong Kong and some Afghan interpreters), there are now effectively no legal paths for asylum seekers to enter the UK. Nobody can claim asylum without being in the UK and nobody can enter the UK to claim asylum. If an asylum seeker does manage to reach Britain, then they are subject to appalling treatment, housed in detention centres and give a meagre allowance of £49.18 a week to live on. They are also not allowed to work and therefore are often forced to take illegal employment on slave wages.

The rhetoric around the bill also has a racist element with Rishi Sunak saying that he wants a “drumbeat of multiple flights a month … because that is how you build a systematic deterrent and how you will stop the boats.” Keir Starmer attacks the government for spending “hundreds of millions of pounds and getting nothing in return,” Starmer in effect, criticising the Conservatives for not deporting enough people.


The European Union is also critical of this bill because it fears greater numbers of asylum seekers choosing EU countries rather than the UK. Ireland’s foreign secretary, declared that the UK policy “isn’t really going to do anything to deal with the issue.” Even the racist President Macron describes it as “a betrayal of our European values.” The UK is avoiding working with France on this issue and as a consequence the asylum seekers have become the victims of a failure of united international action.

It would seem obvious that the issue of migration should be dealt with on a pan-European level and not through individual initiatives of separate countries either inside the EU or outside it. However, this approach is totally opposite from the policies of the capitalist EU and its neighbours. The situation across countries torn by war and oppression, instead of leading to policies for a coordinated humanitarian and just response, have led to an increasing fracturing between member states. As a result, the victims of oppression and war suffer. The capitalist class denies its responsibility for the situation, which has been created by their system and seeks to doubly punish the victims of its crimes. Instead, capitalism tries to deflect public attention onto blaming the victims (asylum seekers) instead of the perpetrator (colonising capital, the military complex and imperialist institutions).


There is a strong sense of revulsion amongst many in the UK against this bill. Attempts to stoke up racist hatred against asylum seekers have reached some reactionary elements amongst of the British people, but in general have failed to gain momentum. However, the racist position taken by the Labour Party will not help the UK reach a just and compassionate approach to this issue. This position could in-turn reinforce and widen racist attitudes in the medium term. This is a real danger. Starmer’s appalling and racist position on Palestine has reinforced the Conservative line on this issue and Labour taking a racist position on asylum seekers cannot help foster a healthy attitude towards other races and cultures. Both Starmer and Sunak try to deny the consequences of historical interventions by the UK through war and imperialism. These consequences are real and are increasing. A just solution needs to be found but this isn’t possible under capitalism.  Ideas around freedom of movement are now under such strict limitations that those who really need that right for their own safety are denied it. People continue to drown in the English Channel. People smugglers continue to prosper. Injustice and suffering continues to be inflicted on thousands of innocent people. It is therefore vitally important to build socialist political alternative to the Labour Party. There are many independent groups and small coalitions that are trying to do this. These groups need to work together with a clear and humane approach to asylum seekers and refugees as well as on other issues. They should not pander to racist rhetoric but patiently explain that this country was built around a rich tapestry of people from all parts of the globe who settled here. These people have benefitted us all culturally and economically in the past and will continue to do so in the future. 

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