Martin Luther King dreamed of ending segregation in a Jim Crow America; Nelson Mandela dreamed of ending apartheid in South Africa; Emeline Pankhurst had a dream of making women equal in a sexist society. Last week, the interior minister announced her dream: to witness a flight sending refugees and asylum-seekers to Rwanda.
That same week, Suella Braverman announced that anyone crossing the English Channel would be banned from seeking asylum in Britain. Prior to its conference speech, the government had already cemented its legacy as the creator of unprecedented market turmoil. Last week, the home secretary ensured the government would also be remembered for violating the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights.
As I said in Parliament in June, and as I will repeat this week in the Council of Europe, Rwanda’s policy is vile and negligent. Refugees don’t make arduous and deadly trips to Britain for fun. They make enormous sacrifices to reach our shores in search of refuge from discrimination, war and poverty. The Rwanda plan abandons society’s most vulnerable people and treats them like chattels: sent away, forgotten. Witnessing desperate people who have escaped war, violence and discrimination and deliberately plunging them into another state of insecurity and precariousness means punishing them not once, but twice.
Deporting a refugee to a country he’s never known is barbaric enough. But by sending refugees to Rwanda, this government is ignoring the dangerous reality that awaits them. The Rwandan government has a track record of systematic human rights abuses, including crackdowns on protesters, opponents and broader civil society.
This came amid rising tensions between Rwanda and its neighbor, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Since November 2021, violence in the eastern region of Congo has increased rapidly. According to a recent United Nations report, the Rwandan army has deployed the M23 (short for “23rd Century Movement”).
The United Nations has reported that between May 28, 2022 and June 17, 2022, more than 150 civilians have been killed and the number of displaced people has reached 5.5 million, the highest number of cases in Africa. If the government proceeds with its deportations to Rwanda, it does so knowing that it is sending people to a war zone.
With the intensification of deportations, the government is reaping the fruits of a decades-long campaign against asylum seekers. This government, supported by much of the media, continues to spread false, demonizing and divisive narratives that portray refugees as evil criminals who come to take advantage of our system.
Successive governments rarely highlight how asylum seekers and refugees have enriched the lives of so many people in this country. Michelline Ngongo came to this country as a refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Today she is a pioneering councilwoman in Islington and has made a living fighting for the most vulnerable in my borough.
From Lord Alf Dubs, a child refugee who fled the Nazis on the Kindertransport, to Sir Mo Farah, who was trafficked to Britain at the age of nine, refugees and asylum seekers have made invaluable contributions that benefit us all. The government will be quick to jump on the bandwagon of praise and support, but the sad truth is that because of that government’s immigration policy, they may never have been able to call this place home.
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Refugees and asylum seekers are scholars, scientists, teachers, doctors and nurses. They are first of all people – mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, grandparents and friends. Their rights do not depend on their social, economic or cultural value. Your rights are unconditional.
As a country, we have openly and rightly accepted refugees from Ukraine fleeing Russia’s brutal war of aggression. We must continue to do so. We must also extend our support to refugees from Syria, Iraq, Yemen or other conflict zones. Anything else is a breach of duty.
Respect for refugees and their hardship is disregarded by this government. My hope is that those who hold refugee lives in their hands will think again, reflect and take a moment to reflect on how they would like to be treated if they find themselves in the same situation.
“My dream was to be myself” These are the words of Le Petit Prince, who fled to Britain in 2016 from Turkey to escape homophobic persecution. In the interest of humanity, we must ensure that the dreams of people like Petit Prince, and not Suella Braverman, are realised.
Jeremy Corbyn is the MP for Islington North and was Labor Party leader from 2015 to 2020