The British government is planning numerous deportation flights to Rwanda in order to discourage people from illegally entering Great Britain. The undertaking is more than controversial. Now the reports of suicide attempts by asylum seekers are increasing.
It took Mohammed a good three years and more than 5,000 miles to reach Britain after fleeing a massacre in his village in Sudan. Well, just two weeks after his arrival across the English Channel by kayak, the 25-year-old is again on the verge of forced deportation. According to a new law, the British government wants to send people who have entered the country illegally to Rwanda. The first flight of asylum seekers is scheduled for June 14, said Home Secretary Priti Patel this week.
The news hit many refugees like a blow. “I thought Great Britain was a good country with a lot of humanity,” says Mohammed, whose real name is different, in an interview with the “Guardian”. Since he found out about the planned deportations to Rwanda, the trauma of his escape has worsened. “It was so difficult for me to flee Africa and now the British government wants to send me back there,” he says.
Back in April, Boris Johnson’s government unveiled its controversial plan to discourage people from entering the UK illegally. Since then, criticism has been growing – fueled by reports of increased suicide attempts by asylum seekers.
Fear of deportation leads to more suicide attempts
Cases include a woman fleeing Iran who attempted suicide, telling staff at a human rights organization that she did so because she was awaiting deportation to Rwanda. She was taken to the hospital just in time and survived. A 40-year-old asylum seeker from Yemen said in a video addressed to Boris Johnson and Priti Patel that after learning about the deportation plans, he “had no choice but to kill me.”
British newspaper The Independent reports the case of an Afghan migrant who was arrested in preparation for his flight to Rwanda. He says he attempted suicide to avoid being sent there. Meanwhile, in Calais, the recent death of a young Sudanese asylum seeker is being investigated by the French authorities. His friends tell local helpers that he told them that after the announced deportations, he no longer wanted to live.
The prospect of being forced to be sent to Rwanda is often the last straw that breaks the camel’s back for many already traumatized people, explains Clare Moseley, managing director of the aid organization “Care4Calais”, the “Guardian”. The aim of the “Rwanda plan” is to serve as a deterrent by making it even more terrifying for refugees than the journeys they make across the English Channel in barely seaworthy boats. “Many refugees have suffered terrible oppression,” says Moseley. “Nevertheless, our plan is to deter them with fear of further harm and oppression.” So it’s no wonder that Priti Patel’s plan is leading the world’s poorest to take their own lives out of desperation.”
Boris Johnson: Rwanda is ‘one of the safest countries in the world’
The implementation of the much-criticized “Rwanda plan” comes at a tricky time for Boris Johnson. Because of his “Partygate” affair about illegal lockdown celebrations, the Prime Minister sees himself exposed to the growing danger of a vote of confidence in the House of Commons (Stern reported (€)). At least 28 Conservative MPs have now officially called for his resignation after an investigative report confirmed multiple rule-breaking and “excessive alcohol consumption” at government headquarters.
But this isn’t the first time Johnson has had his back against the wall. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine shortly after the first “Partygate” headlines, he has known that distraction is the best defense. And what would be better suited to this in the current situation than to implement one of his key campaign promises: limiting illegal immigration. The number of people crossing the English Channel by boat hit new records during his tenure. More than 28,000 men, women and children attended last year.
Too much for Johnson and his government: “tens of thousands” of asylum seekers and migrants are to be brought to Rwanda from mid-June. According to the Interior Ministry, people there will receive a “generous support package” that includes five years of training, housing and health care. The government dismissed criticism from activists and human rights activists that the policy lacked compassion, stressing it was worse to encourage a system in which many asylum seekers were exploited by smugglers.
The prime minister went a step further by describing Rwanda as “one of the safest countries in the world” that enjoys global recognition for “welcoming and integrating” immigrants.
Human rights activists want to sue against the “Rwanda plan”.
However, observers from human rights groups assess the humanitarian situation in the East African country quite differently. According to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, freedom of expression is severely restricted. People who speak out against the government face imprisonment, torture or worse. It would be impossible to ensure the safety of deported people there.
Criticism also comes from the opposition Labor Party. After the announcement of the first deportation flights, MP Yvette Cooper accused the Johnson government of “making headlines without regard to reality”. The “Rwanda plan” is not about deterring criminal gangs or small boat crossings, but about distracting the prime minister from breaking the law. “This is a totally unworkable, outrageously expensive and deeply un-British policy,” Cooper rumbled in the UK Parliament.
Several NGOs – such as Care4Calais, Detention Action and Freedom From Torture – have now announced lawsuits against the government’s deportation plans. For the 25-year-old Mohammed and other asylum seekers who are supposed to be on the first flight to Rwanda, these attempts at help are likely to come too late.
Sources: Guardian, Independent, BBC, Reuters, HRW Rwanda, with AFP footage