Why we must not forget the Rwanda plan
One year ago today, five refugees sat in an airfield waiting to be forcibly deported to Rwanda. The government wanted them to be a kind of showpiece, the first refugees sent to Rwanda under the new scheme which had been announced that April.
Under the brutal plan, any refugee who came to the UK but was deemed “inadmissible” by the government could be deported to Rwanda with no chance of ever returning to the UK.
Since May 9 that year, we had been aware of 130 shocked and traumatised people being taken into detention. Our team worked closely with many of them, speaking to them daily to show support, whilst also connecting them with lawyers who could argue their cases.
The atmosphere during that time was tense, as exhausted men – some of whom were just miles from their UK relatives – soon realised why they were being held in detention, and they were frightened.
Whilst talking with one man, a caseworker recalls being told, “I have five friends
around the phone, we are listening,” as she carefully explained to them the Rwanda plan.
“You need to check all your paperwork for a mention of it. R, W, A, N, D, A,” she spelled out.
As she listened to their shuffling papers, she told them, “the government wants to do this to you, but we are going to try to stop it. You understand? You are not alone, we are with you.”
Care4Calais had already been working to stop the unfair Rwanda plan long before it became “real”. We had already joined with the PCS Union and Detention Action to challenge the entire policy in the High Court, and the law firm Duncan Lewis were already preparing a case against the government to be heard at the Royal Courts of Justice that July.
We had hoped the government would wait to ascertain whether their plan was legal or not before taking further action. We were wrong.
In June, when the government issued actual tickets to those inside, panic and desperation filled the detention centre. Our caseworkers became support systems for men (many who were torture and trafficking victims) who were utterly demoralised.
Hunger strikes started, as did suicide attempts – by any means possible – one man drinking a bottle of shampoo, and when that didn’t work, trying to hang himself.
Behind the headlines, and the government’s insistence that this should go ahead, we
saw the human cost.
By June 14, after round-the-clock work, our amazing lawyers had achieved the cancellation of many of the individual tickets issued.
The number of tickets had reduced to five, and then late in the evening, the European Court of Human Rights intervened to stay removal for one of the asylum seekers.
With less than an hour before the chartered plane was due to take off at 10pm, barristers used this ruling to obtain an injunction, taking the remaining people off the plane. The last man disembarking just 30 minutes before scheduled departure.
This was an indescribable relief for everyone. Everyone connected with C4C was so happy that no one would be sent, and it seemed to some that the Rwanda plan was dead.
But it wasn’t. And it isn’t.
The terrifying thing is that, despite stopping the plane a year ago, the Rwanda plan is more dangerous than ever.
Ministers had every intention of cheering that plane as it took off in June 2022, and they’re even more determined for it to happen now. The Illegal Migration Bill is built on agreements with third countries who will accept our deported refugees, but we have only one – with Rwanda – and no prospect of any others.
We currently support 650 people who have been issued with Rwanda notices. Their numbers have included two pregnant women, trafficking and torture survivors, fathers with sons in the UK, and many more who have every right to have their claims heard here.
We will not stop fighting this cruel, ineffective and unfair plan, nor supporting those people affected by it. But we can only do this with your help. Please donate if you can – any amount large or small will make a difference to a refugee’s life bit.ly/C4CAccessTeam