After briefing the announcement six times previously in moments of political difficulty, the government has officially revealed its intention to send migrants arriving via the Channel to Rwanda. Under the proposals, male asylum seekers who cross the Channel in small boats will be sent to the central African country, because they are “most likely to be economic migrants”, according to the Times.
Perceptive readers may note that now is another vulnerable time for the government — further partygate fines are predicted for Boris Johnson — and that the Rwanda plan is probably legally unworkable anyway due to breaching Britain’s obligations under the UN Refugee Convention and human rights laws. Nearly two thirds of people who migrate to Britain’s shores in small boats are given refugee status and allowed to remain, after all.
But let’s pretend that an incompetent Home Office, which has failed repeatedly to make good on Priti Patel’s promise to stop “100 per cent” of small boat crossings, manages to implement this policy. And let’s put aside the moral and human rights implications of the proposal for one second too.
What, exactly, is wrong with economic migrants? Conservatives and the refugee lobby alike frame such people as somehow less deserving. The government says that they’re not “genuine” refugees, and there is much hand-wringing among human rights groups about when not to use the word “migrant”. That’s not to mention the fact that I at least understood the Tory party to be the party of enterprise, getting on in life, “aspiration” and so on.
Britain has an ageing population and is so short-staffed that flight cancellations are leaving people unable to go on holiday. Why would we stop working-age people who are seeking a more stable financial situation from coming here — and pay Rwanda handsomely for this lost opportunity? (In fact, the government has already conceded this point; in February it relaxed post-Brexit immigration rules to allow more care workers to enter the UK by adding them to the shortage occupation list.)
The solution is not to deport men who travel over on small boats but to open up a safe and legal route for them so that they can stop risking their lives by doing so. But that’s not nearly as good a newspaper headline in a bad week for Boris Johnson.