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6 April 2022

Department of Déjà Vu presents plan to deport asylum seekers – for the sixth time

Whenever the government is in trouble, it points to a new place on a map and re-announces the same idea.

By Anoosh Chakelian

Sometimes it feels like whenever this government is under attack from its own MPs (this week it’s facing pressure over the potential privatisation of Channel 4, and refusal to ban trans conversion therapy), ministers unfurl a map and decide where – in some hypothetical universe – they would deport asylum seekers.

This week, it’s lucky old Rwanda.

Yes, for the sixth time in less than two years, ministers are again briefing their plans to fly asylum seekers to a third country for processing and resettlement purposes.

The Times reports that Boris Johnson is “close to making a formal statement” about a plan to “outsource” the processing of asylum seekers to Rwanda. But no, it’s not a policy yet. And won’t be announced at any specific date.

In reality, it’s yet another anonymous briefing about nothing concrete, just like the last five times this idea was floated: in October 2020 (when the proposal was to send migrants to disused ferries, Papua New Guinea, Moldova or Morocco), March 2021 (destination: Isle of Man, Gibraltar, Scottish islands and other British overseas territories), June 2021 (when Rwanda was first mooted), November 2021 (the location by this point had changed to Albania – which angrily denied the arrangement), and January 2022 (Rwanda again, plus Ghana for good measure).

Although the Nationality & Borders Bill passing into law could create the conditions for a deal like this, so far it has only been used as a rhetorical device whenever English Channel small boat crossings peak or when the government is feeling beleaguered. Last time it was briefed, for example, it was part of “Operation Red Meat” – the strategy aiming to distract Tory backbenchers from partygate.

These constant re-announcements risk doubling down on the Home Office’s reputation for rhetoric and spin over action, exposed by the sluggish visa process for Ukrainian refugees. Yet if the government fails to follow through on outsourcing asylum, it will have an even more damaging problem on its hands: disappointing the right.

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[See also: “Take Back Control meant Keep Them Out”: Alf Dubs on how Brexit “poisoned” the UK refugee response]

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