Under UK Home Secretary Priti Patel’s Nationality and Borders Bill — a bid to curb migrant crossings of the English Channel — the UK government is aiming to send those who are deemed to have entered the country illegally to be processed in Rwanda.
The five-year Rwanda asylum trial is expected to cost an initial £120 million and is aimed at young, single asylum seekers who arrive through "illegal, dangerous, or unnecessary methods," such as on small boats or lorries.
Paddington Bear, who fled his home in the jungle of darkest Peru after it was destroyed by a huge fire, is forced to make the arduous journey to London, stowed away in a lifeboat in the hope of a better life — not an uncommon story for asylum seekers.
In fact, the man behind the fictitious character was even quoted saying that the beloved bear was a refugee.
Author Michael Bond said he drew inspiration for the polite bear from watching children with labels around their necks being evacuated from London during World War II.
Today, under what is referred to as the “Anti-Refugee Bill,” Paddington would be sent to Rwanda, and detained in a centre while his asylum claim was being considered. If he was granted refugee status, he would be allowed to live in Rwanda but regardless of the outcome of his application, he would not be allowed back in the UK.
The plan to send asylum seekers over 4,000 miles away and outsource the refugee obligations from the UK, one of the richest countries in the world, to Rwanda, among the poorest, has been controversial since it was first announced in early 2022.
From Buckingham Palace to the Church of England, criticism of the policy has rung out across nearly every corner of the country. According to the LA Times, Prince Charles was heard calling the policy “appalling.” Actor Riz Ahmed called it “crazy,” “wrong,” and “racist.” Dame Emma Thompson, who has an adopted son from Rwanda, described the scheme as “eye-wateringly mad and callous,” while journalist Beth Rigby said that the approach “does not represent the soul of this country.” What’s more, over 120,000 people have signed a petition calling on the government to reverse its plan.
Following the bill being given royal assent on April 28 (the final step required for a parliamentary bill to become law), legal challenges came in thick and fast. Still, an emergency application for an injunction brought to the High Court on June 10 by a variety of charities, action groups, and unions was defeated. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said this was “welcome news.”
The plan to deport asylum-seekers of various nationalities to Rwanda is set to go ahead on Tuesday June 14.
One of the people scheduled to be on a flight to Rwanda on Tuesday was a police commander from Iran, who was forced to flee his country after refusing a government order to shoot protesters. However, after a last-minute appeal pleading his case, he received a letter saying he will not be sent to the east African country on Tuesday.
While the fight is far from over, legal challenges from migrant advocacy groups to overturn this bill seem to be working.
Tuesday’s first flight to Rwanda was originally set to hold 130 deportees, but as appeals flooded in, that number has come down to just 8 people — and is expected to drop further as the remaining asylum seekers file their claims. Among those already saved from deportation are three child migrants wrongly assessed as adults.
Outside the immigration centre at Gatwick airport, people brandished signs that read “Stop deportation!” and “If fleeing danger is illegal, then the law is wrong.”
In Manchester, hundreds gathered to oppose the deportation plan. Among them was artist Will Belshah, who concluded the protest by saying: “Anger and civil disobedience are sometimes the only way to change things.”
Dissent is also coming from inside the Home Office itself (the department responsible for immigration, security, and law and order). Several civil servants have threatened to strike after the plans left them feeling “nothing but the deepest shame.”
Those same people may be behind the Twitter account Our Home Office. Purporting to be run by staff in the department, the account has been set up to express its support for refugees. The anonymous group has even put up posters around the offices comparing Paddington Bear to an illegal immigrant. The poster campaign, stamped with the Immigration Enforcement crest, features a picture of Paddington Bear and notes that his arrival to the UK was through a “clandestine irregular route, using small boat, without visa.”
An unusual subject of interest notice seen stuck up inside a Home Office building today. pic.twitter.com/gMzfi5ia8r— Our Home Office 🧡 (@Our_Home_Office) June 6, 2022
But the issue of safe asylum routes is far from being resolved. Tragically, 27 people lost their lives in November 2021 while trying to cross the English Channel from northern France, the biggest single loss of life since records of boat crossings began.
The government has failed to provide safe alternatives and continues to erode the limited safe routes that already exist, according to the Refugee Council.