The British plan unveiled last year to fly asylum seekers to Rwanda was put on hold after strong criticism. But it is still very much alive.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman traveled to the Central African nation on March 18 “for a visit aimed at reinforcing the U.K. government’s commitment to a controversial plan to deport some asylum-seekers to the African country,” the Associated Press reported. In advance of her trip, Braverman reiterated the British government’s position that the policy “will act as a powerful deterrent against dangerous and illegal journeys.”
The policy, which is an immigration priority for the ruling Conservative Party, calls for asylum seekers to be sent, against their will, if necessary, to Rwanda in exchange for payment of $170 million. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak currently leads the government and the refugee expulsion was previously championed by Braverman’s predecessor, Priti Sushil Patel. She was Home Secretary in the cabinet of then Prime Minister Boris Johnson, architect of the United Kingdom and Rwanda Migration and Economic Development Partnership, as it is ofﬁcially called.
It may be a fulﬁlment of what is written in the stars or karma or something else but there is an immense, ugly irony in the fact that the refugee expulsion policy is being driven by children of immigrants: Braverman, Sunak and Patel are all of Indian ancestry. They have backgrounds which should have placed them in opposition to the inhumane refugee relocation policy. But their families, who fled from Africa, have succeeded handsomely in Britain, and all three are members of the Conservative Party.
Braverman, who was born in London, is the daughter of the former Uma Mootien-Pillay, who is of Hindu Tamil Mauritanian background and who immigrated to Britain from Mauritius. (Incidentally, Braverman’s ﬁrst name, Suella, is based on the character Sue Ellen Ewing of “Dallas,” which, Wikipedia notes, was popular at the time of her birth.) Her father, Christie Fernandes, is of Goan background and last lived in Kenya. They immigrated to Britain also in the 1960s.
Sunak was born in Southampton to parents Yashvir and Usha Sunak, of Indian Punjabi descent, who immigrated from East Africa also in the 1960s. The elder Sunak was born and raised in what was then the British Colony and Protectorate of Kenya – now Kenya. His mother was born in Tanganyika, which later became part of Tanzania.
Patel was born in London to a Ugandan-Indian couple, Sushil and Anjana Patel. Her paternal grandparents were born in Gujarat, India and emigrated to Uganda but fled to Britain before the country’s then dictator Idi Amin ordered that all Asians be deported. “As the daughter of a migrant, I know the sanctuary, welcome and opportunities that Britain provides,” Patel, regarded as one of the most rightwing members of the Conservative Party, once said. “Regaining control of our borders does not mean slamming the door shut.” That did not prevent her from being an early supporter of a policy that does just that: “slamming the door shut.”
As this column previously reported, under the policy, some refugees who arrive in Britain will be flown to Rwanda, thousands of miles away, where they will be able to petition for asylum. But those who are granted asylum will not be allowed back in Britain; they will have to stay in Rwanda. They will have to live in a country where a genocidal civil war took place between April 7 and July 15, 1994, in which almost one million Rwandans were killed.
Several prominent Britons have denounced the United Kingdom and Rwanda Migration and Economic Development Partnership. A British court approved it but the European Court of Human Rights ruled that it entailed “a real risk of irreversible harm.” The government was forced to cancel the ﬁrst flight to Rwanda scheduled for last June. Still, Braverman defended it, saying it would “support people to rebuild their lives in a new country,” as well as boost Rwanda’s economy through investments in jobs and skills. Then Prince Charles, in a rare royal comment on a political matter, dubbed the plan “appalling” but there is no indication that he will intervene now that he is the king. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said in an Easter address last year that, as a Christian nation, Britain cannot “sub-contract out our responsibilities, even to a country that seeks to do well like Rwanda.” Sonya Sceats, chief executive at the nonproﬁt Freedom from Torture, dubbed it a “cash-for-humans” plan.
More recently, Priyamvada Gopal, a member of Cambridge University’s English faculty, noted in a recent Al Jazeera column the controversy that arose when BBC suspended soccer commentator Gary Lineker for criticizing the “illegal Migration Bill” on his personal social media account. Lineker described the measure as “cruel” and said the anti-migrant rhetoric surrounding it was reminiscent of 1930s Germany – an oblique reference to the rise of the Nazis. The BBC said Lineker violated its policy of journalistic neutrality but reinstated him after a sustained backlash.
“It is deeply reprehensible that ethnic minority politicians like Sunak and Braverman, instead of honoring the histories of anti-racist struggle which afforded their families shelter in Britain in the face of hostility, have sought to enact upon others the cruel expulsions visited upon previous generations,” Gopal, who was born in Delhi, India, wrote. “This is not holding them to a different standard. It is to insist on an obvious moral principle, the golden rule — that you must afford to others the same principles of refuge and inclusion that were offered to you.”
But then it is no secret that Britain, during its more than 200 years of occupation of India, created a separate, elite socio-political class whose purpose was to rule over their own people on behalf of “the Crown” and the East India Company. The architects of that policy would be proud that, in today’s Britain of 67 million people, 18 percent of them not “white,” three politicians of Indian ancestry are continuing that legacy -and doing it in the heart of the former empire.