Yesterday evening the government’s plans to exile 7 asylum seekers to Rwanda were thwarted at the last minute. This was after intervention from the European Court of Human Rights, which issued an injunction preventing the removal of at least 1 of the 7 men, an Iraqi national suspected of being a torture survivor. Following this, the remaining 6 men were removed from the flight in batches as their lawyers sought and obtained similar injunctions.
That it took intervention from the European Court is unfortunate, not least because the government will inevitably use this as a pretext to launch further attacks on the Court and the UK’s continued membership of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Court’s intervention here though evidences just what was at stake for the men on that flight, with such interventions only taking place when there is a risk of serious human rights violations. Such risks were always obvious, and the reprehensible plan managed to unite forces as disparate as refugee rights NGOS, the monarchy and religious leaders of all faiths in opposition to it.
What was even more disheartening was the government’s determination to press ahead with this flight, despite them knowing that substantive legal proceedings scheduled for July may in any case have seen them need to bring the deported men back to the UK. This was performative cruelty at its worse, and it is difficult to conclude that last night’s flight was anything other than an attempt to intimidate and punish those who came to the UK seeking sanctuary only to instead be threatened with a one-way ticket to a country many wouldn’t have heard of and where their safety clearly was not guaranteed.
The cruelty of this policy was clear even before the government started indiscriminately handing out tickets to men detained at Gatwick and Heathrow detention centres. RAMFEL client, Taraki, was one of the first to speak out about his fears when news of the policy broke. For the men actually issued tickets, these fears must only have been heightened.
Despite all the heartache caused, it was inspiring to witness the tireless efforts of everyone who worked to stop this tragedy unfolding. NGOs such as Detention Action, Asylum Aid and Care 4 Calais challenged this policy in the courts, ably assisted by lawyers who evidently were working non-stop to ensure their clients were taken off the flight with barely hours left before its scheduled departure.
Beyond the legal challenges brought, the men faced with exile themselves showed incredible courage, many sharing their stories publicly. It is never easy for people to share such intimate information with the public, but putting human stories into the public domain undermined government efforts to present these men as scary boogey men or simply faceless numbers.
Finally, the actions of protesters who attended the Home Office and the detention centres also clearly made a difference and let the government know there is sharp opposition to this policy. Tales of men held at Heathrow detention centre who weren’t on the flight protesting on behalf of those who were was also inspiring and showed human solidarity in the face of adversity and cruelty.
The government has this morning announced plans to charter a new flight ahead of July’s court case, demonstrating that no lessons have been learned and that there is no genuine desire on their part to actually try and solve the problems that lead to people making the dangerous journey across the Channel. It will likely take another gargantuan effort to ensure no one boards this second plane, and yet more public money will surely be wasted on this performative cruelty. The human suffering for those given tickets – and those fearing they will – will be even more costly.
We spoke with Taraki this morning, who thankfully was not given a ticket for this flight. He told us how happy and relieved he was that the flight was cancelled, but was understandably shocked and disappointed when we told him that the government are already pressing ahead with plans for the next flight. We hope that in a few weeks’ time, we won’t be battling to get Taraki off a plane bound for Rwanda.