Fisking Boris Johnson’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda

Here is Boris Johnson outlining the government’s new plan to offshore asylum seekers to Rwanda. Watch the video, after which will follow a fisking:

It’s a striking fact that 7 in 10 of those arriving in small boats last year were men under 40 paying people smugglers to queue jump, and taking up our capacity to help genuine women and child refugees.

For a government that is bent on standing against what it considers to be the woke tide of ID politics, this is a particularly egregious example of buying fully into it. Since when did age or gender come into the question of whether somebody is a genuine asylum seeker or not? Is it not possible to be in danger of your life as a man between 18-40? Indeed, in countries in which women may be oppressed in all sorts of ways, is it not more likely that a man may be in danger because of his work or involvement in politics whilst women are, typically, made to stay at home out of sight? Of course, there are women and children needing refuge too, but it is an absolute nonsense to infer that men between 18-40 are somehow all necessarily economic migrants. You cannot possibly know unless and until they are given a hearing, which requires them to get here first. It is outrageous to simply deny somebody their application a priori based on their age or gender.

Nor is it right to consider these people ‘queue jumpers’. It is entirely unclear what queue Mr Johnson is referring to. Those in Calais are not currently in a queue to get to the UK. There are a mix of asylum seekers trying to get into the UK and those who are seeking asylum in France but are currently homeless. Those trying to get into the UK have only two means of getting here: small boat or stowing away on a container lorry via either a ferry or Eurotunnel. But there is no queue. It is disingenuous to suggest otherwise. There are just a number of people seeking an opportunity to get into the UK, with the French authorities trying their best to separate them from the lorries onto which they might stow away.

The reference to queue jumping is particularly bad because it suggests those who come on small boats have somehow bucked some sort of system. But the reality is there is no system. Asylum claims in the UK do not begin until you reach British soil and claim asylum. There is no queue in which anybody is waiting. They are simply trying to get to the UK so that they can begin the process of asylum. To make the boat crossing impossible for people is to not provide a means of claiming asylum, nor to encourage people to use safer means of accessing asylum, it is to literally shut off the very means of applying for asylum.

Those attempting crossings are not directly fleeing imminent peril, as is the intended purpose of the asylum system. They pass through manifestly safe countries, including many in Europe where they could and should have claimed asylum.

Again, the Prime Minister simply has no grounds to make this claim. We do not know if they are fleeing imminent peril until such time as they get here and we can process their asylum claims. They may well be fleeing imminent peril.

Of course, what the Prime Minister really means is that the countries through which they have travelled are safe and the immediate danger from their country of origin is no longer imminent. By his reckoning, they ought to have claimed asylum in those countries first.

Unfortunately for the Prime Minister, there is no law that demands they do this. He may feel that is what they should do, but no international law says it. The 1951 Refugee Convention has no stipulation about which country one must claim asylum in. Whilst you are not permitted to claim asylum in a new country if you have already begun a claim in another one (unless you can show you were made to apply under duress), there simply is no rule of first country of safe haven.

Further, those in Calais may well have arrived there as a stow away. In such a situation, you cannot very well ask the driver to stop and drop you off in the nearest safe country. They do not know you have stowed away and, the chances are, you do not know where you are yourself! One cannot assume that those waiting to come to the UK have been able to get off their mode of transport in another safe country.

Moreover, there are a whole host of reasons why people may prefer to come to the UK than another European country. Issues of language, family relations, prior knowledge of the country and a range of other factors might be at issue. For example, if you are fleeing a Muslim regime, is it not reasonable to distrust another one? If you speak good English, but no French, is it unreasonable to want to aim for an English speaking nation?

Given there is no law demanding you remain in the first safe country you pass through, why should asylum seekers not be allowed to take into consideration the best place for them to end up? Bearing in mind the overwhelming majority of asylum seekers tend to seek refuge in neighbouring countries (see, for example, Turkey – who take the highest number – and Colombia, second due to Venezuelan diaspora), those fleeing further may well have good and legitimate reasons for doing so.

It is this rank unfairness that can be exploited by gangs which risks eroding public support for the whole concept of asylum.

So whether you are fleeing Putin or Assad, our aim is that you should not need to turn to people smugglers or any other kind of illegal option.

Except, of course, Mr Johnson is defining the very ability to use existing routes as ‘illegal options’. And it is nigh on impossible to get here for the average person without some involvement with criminals. Many of my friends had to get fake passports in order to smuggle themselves out of their country of origin, over a border into another country, where they could then fly or stow away to a host country. They couldn’t do anything else because the authorities were looking for them and their passports were marked, making getting out of the country by any legal means impossible for them.

Mr Johnson and the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, could undercut the people smuggling gangs by providing free ferry services from Calais to Dover with the promise of a processing centre in the UK, which will hear cases within 6 months, providing English lessons and skills training during the time they are there. This would also undercut the market for dangerous crossing from which people smugglers profit. That is, of course, what you would do if you genuinely do not want people to turn to people smugglers. What they are proposing is to stop existing means of getting here and to make it even harder for people to claim asylum. This makes it even more likely people will use people smuggling gangs and, worse, when they get here not claim asylum but immediately go underground and work on the black market. Current government plans make it more, not less, likely people will take their chances with people smugglers.

But to deliver that we must first ensure that the only route to asylum to the UK is a safe and legal one, and that those who try to jump the queue or abuse our system will find no automatic path to settlement in our country, but rather be swiftly and humanely removed to a safe third country or their country of origin.

Again, as noted above, we are not providing any safe routes to the UK. We are actually removing the only existing routes – albeit quite dangerous ones – and replacing them with no route at all.

We have already addressed the idea of queue jumping above (there is no queue to be jumped).

We currently fail to deport the overwhelming majority of failed asylum seekers. Many are not removed because it would be ‘too dangerous’ to deport them back to their country of origin. It is not so dangerous that they need asylum but too dangerous to deport them home, according to the government. Others simply go to ground and cannot be found again by the government for fear this is what will happen to them. Their current plans make this latter problem even more likely. Those who do not believe the government’s plans will give them a credible shot at ending up in the UK will simply come by the existing routes and, rather than claim asylum upon arrival, will immediately go to ground. These plans will almost certainly exacerbate that issue rather than resolve it.

From today, our new migration and economic development partnership will mean that anyone entering the UK illegally, as well as those who have arrived illegally since January 1st, may be relocated to Rwanda.

It bears saying the government are – according to this statement – planning to retroactively apply the law. They are going to insist those who came here legally according to the 1951 Refugee Convention will be deemed to have come illegally if they did so from 1st January. Such people, who did what the law allows them to do and makes provision for them to do, run the risk of now being removed to Rwanda.

This innovative approach, driven by our shared humanitarian impulse, and made possible by Brexit freedoms, will provide safe and legal routes for asylum, whilst disrupting the business model of the gangs. Because it means economic migrants taking advantage of the asylum system will not get to stay in the UK, while those in genuine need will be properly protected, including with access to legal services on arrival in Rwanda.

Whilst it is clearly true economic migrants will not be able to stay in the UK, this misses the bigger and more pressing point that neither will genuine asylum seekers. It also misses the fact – which is the real mischief the government claims to want to end – it will not impact the people smuggling gangs. Indeed, it makes it far more likely that asylum seekers will use them. If they now have no legal means of getting to the UK at all, they are much more likely to take their chances on small boats and go underground when they get here.

Claiming that sending asylum seekers to Rwanda is some sort of exciting opportunity for them is, minimally, extremely crass. There may well be good reasons asylum seekers were trying to get to the UK and equally good reasons why going to Rwanda may not be as safe a move for them as the Prime Minister is here making out. The ‘funding we are providing’ is no different to countries carbon offsetting by buying credits off other nations. We are basically outsourcing our problem and paying another country to deal with it.

And given the opportunity to build a new life in that dynamic country supported by the funding we are providing. The deal we’ve done is uncapped and Rwanda will have the capacity to resettle tens of thousands of people in the years ahead. And let’s be clear, Rwanda is one of the safest countries in the world, globally recognised for its record of welcoming and integrating migrants

The claim to Rwanda being a safe country ought to be stacked against this:

There is little more to say than what has been said earlier. Trying to sell the benefits of Rwanda – which I am sure is a wonderful country in many ways – misses the point. The government is passing off its own responsibilities to people. It is actively stopping people from claiming asylum in the UK. It is determining that Rwanda is a good place for them to go without actually bothering to ask the question why they are seeking asylum in the UK specifically.

It also bears thinking about Yvette Cooper’s comments here:

Even from a fiscal point of view, the plan is insane. But, as Cooper rightly notes, the plan is more importantly unethical.