At a time when more people than ever before have been forced from their homes around the world, and the British public are showing such incredible compassion towards Ukrainian refugees, we think the government’s plan to ship asylum seekers to Rwanda is unworkable, cruel and inhumane. It would also be hugely expensive and does nothing to tackle the root causes of displacement. With two thirds of asylum seekers arriving here on small boats proven to have a genuine need for protection, it is simply wrong to treat victims of war, violence, conflict and persecution in this way. Instead, we call for safe legal routes to be established for the relatively small number of asylum seekers who attempt to reach the UK, often for family or language reasons. Allowing people safe, orderly access to the UK asylum system would stop them risking their lives on increasingly dangerous journeys, would undermine the people smugglers’ business model and would take the heat out of this issue. The numbers are manageable – last year there were under 50,000 asylum applications in the UK, compared to 105,000 in France and 190,000 in Germany, while Poland has taken in more than 2.5 million Ukrainian refugees in the last 6 weeks alone.
But behind the numbers are human beings looking for safety. At Suffolk Refugee Support, for 23 years we have seen successive governments enact ever more punitive measures against asylum seekers, with little effect but to create more human misery. The majority of the people we have supported in that time were forced to enter the UK through clandestine routes. Today, they are our friends and colleagues, they are British citizens, doctors and local business owners. Many of them would have been denied the chance to rebuild their lives in safety under these plans, as might Ukrainian refugees or Afghan interpreters arriving in the UK without documentation today. If it would be wrong to send a Ukrainian refugee to Rwanda, we should not do so with other people fleeing conflict and violence.