Stop Rwanda Deportations

Following the passing of the Rwanda bill last month, the government has started abducting asylum seekers from our door step – Lunar House in Croydon for deportation to Rwanda. We can’t let the targeting of the most vulnerable in our community go unchallenged, the Resistance Kitchen has joined the campaign to stop deportations to Rwanda.

Hostile Environment

The UK Home Office’s Hostile Environment Policy was introduced by the coalition government in 2012. Home secretary Theresa May said “The aim is to create, here in Britain, a really hostile environment for illegal immigrants”. The policy unleashed administrative and legislative measures designed to make staying in the United Kingdom as difficult as possible for people without leave to remain, in the hope that they may “voluntarily leave”, so sparing the UK of openly flouting the Refugee Convention by denying them asylum. It is never the less an illegal policy, breaking the equality law as detailed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The policy ensures asylum seekers are made destitute, housed in the most inhospitable accommodations, prevented from working and yet starved of food and basic resources. It has also been shown to target black and brown people in particular.

We have covered aspects of this in an article where we compare how the UK treats its refugees, to a country in the global south which has ten times the number of refugees as the UK does:

The Truth about Asylum Seekers and Refugees in the UK

 

The Rwanda policy can perhaps best be understood as the latest phase of this “hostile environment” policy which successive UK governments have implemented.

What's the Rwanda policy?

The Rwanda policy is an attempt by the UK government to shirk its responsibility under international law to provide sanctuary for asylum seekers, and instead dump them in Rwanda.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has condemned the policy saying “They evade international obligations and they are contrary to the spirit and the letter of the refugee convention… they are contrary to the law and to the responsibilities that need to be met… refugees are not commodities these are human beings, they are human lives, they shouldn’t have to be transferred to other countries…” (UNHCR spokesperson Shabia Mantoo).

The government has always known that the policy is illegal. The Home Secretary Suella Braverman back in 2022 on the first page on the Illegal Migration Bill acknowledged its illegality, but added “the Government nevertheless wishes the House to proceed with the bill” which they obligingly did.

So it wasn’t surprising that on 29th June 2023 the High Court found that the Rwanda Policy was unlawful. On the 15th November 2023 the Supreme Court unanimously agreed with the decision by the High Court that the UK government plans to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda is illegal.

Rwanda Act

Following such a major defeat, on 23rd April 2024 the government passed an even more unbelievable piece of legislation called the Safety of Rwanda Act. The act essentially tells the courts to ignore the law when it comes to deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda.

The act orders the courts “you must conclusively treat Rwanda as a safe country” and defines “safe country” as whatever is required by international law:

A “safe country” is defined in section 1(5) as a place to which a person may be removed in compliance with all of the UK’s international obligations that are relevant to the treatment of a person removed there.

And to be clear it lists all the international laws that the UK is breaking, that the Act is ordering the courts to ignore, including future judgements:

For the purposes of the Safety of Rwanda Act, “International law” is defined in section 1(6) as including:

  • the Human Rights Convention (being the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR))
  • the Refugee Convention
  • the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966
  • the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment of 1984
  • the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings done at Warsaw on 16 May 2005
  • customary international law
  • any other international law, or convention or rule of international law, whatsoever, including any order, judgment, decision or measure of the European Court of Human Rights

Essentially the Safety of Rwanda Act orders the court’s to ignore the law.

Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s chief executive, said the bill “takes a hatchet to international legal protections for some of the most vulnerable people in the world, and it is a matter of national disgrace that our political establishment has let this bill pass.”

Union Action

Civil service union is taking legal action against government over Rwanda deportation plan. The FDA union, which represents senior civil servants, has submitted an application for a judicial review over concerns that Home Office staff could be in breach of international law – and open to possible prosecution – if they implement the Prime Minister’s Safety of Rwanda Act and carrying out the deportations.

Northern Ireland Declares Rwanda Law Illegal

The High Court in Northern Ireland has ruled that the Rwanda deportation law cannot be not apply in Northern Ireland because it undermines human rights protections guaranteed in the region under post-Brexit arrangements as its incompatible with the European convention on human rights (ECHR). Northern Ireland’s Good Friday peace agreement is underpinned by the ECHR. If the ECHR is compromised then the peace agreement could unravel.

Scapegoating Asylum Seekers For Elections

But this hasn’t stopped stop the government. Having scapegoated asylum seekers for the failings of his own policies from shortage of housing, to the cost of living crisis, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak sees the deportation of vulnerable asylum seekers to Rwanda, a country they have no connection with, as an election saver. Sunak has ordered the fast tracking of deportations in time for the upcoming election’s. Asylum seekers are being rounded up and imprisoned in detention centres at the airports ready for deportation to Rwanda. The flights will be ready in 10-12 weeks.

Police at Lunar House preparing to abduct asylum seekers
Abductions Start

Similar to bail conditions for suspected criminals, the government requires asylum seekers to report in every week or fortnight whilst it considers their asylum application, a process that can take over 5 years!

For the whole of the London region there are only two such registration offices – Eaton House in West London and Lunar House – the home office in Croydon. So every asylum seeker in London waiting the outcome of their case, which can take many years, has to come to one of these two offices every week or fortnight to sign in.

Since the passing of the Rwanda bill the government has been using these routine signing ins to detain people, an act that has been described accurately by the local Green Party candidate Peter Underwood as ‘state kidnapping’. Once detained they are sneaked out, often in unmarked van’s, to be taken to detention centres in Gatwick or Heathrow ready for deportation to Rwanda.

Unsuspecting Asylum seekers who are coming to routine signing ins, are usually not aware of the law or their rights. The government is counting on this to ensure resistance-free unhindered deportation.

Resistance Kitchen - 1 in 7 of our guests is an asylum seeker
Resistance Kitchen – Our Duty

One in seven of the people we serve at the kitchen are those seeking asylum. Even before the Rwanda policy, out of all the cherished souls that come to us for help, they are perhaps the most desperate. We see the direct impact of the cruelty of the “hostile environment policy” ushered in by the Tory-Lib-Dem coalition government, and since, put on steroids by successive home secretaries.

Our guests have to live through that nightmare. For example a child who came to us for food. His whose whole family, apart from his mother, taken from him by a war fuelled by British weapons, forced to escape alone, without his mother, on a perilous journey of thousands of miles that took him a whole year to reach our shores, crossing the sea on a tiny dingy, only to discover that our government is determined to do whatever it can to make life here so unbearably impossible, including starving him, that he will want to go back to a country ravaged by war and filled with death. Usually we wouldn’t serve a unaccompanied child but in his case we had to make an exception.

So when we saw the shameful passing of the Rwanda policy into law, the least we could do was act to defend our community.

Distributing new leaflets at our kitchen
Lunar House

This last few weeks we have been privileged to have worked with dedicated volunteers from many anti deportation groups, outside the Home Office at Lunar House in Croydon advising asylum seekers as they enter the building for their weekly or fortnightly signing in. Lunar house is one of just two centres in London that asylum seekers can sign in at, so it can get very busy.

Leafleting

The leaflets we were giving out were designed by Action Against Detention & Deportation (AADD), whilst simple they had all the essential information needed by an asylum seeker in the event they were detained for deportation – their rights, contact list of lawyers and other useful numbers.

Leafleting

During busy times we often get many asylum seekers rushing to enter Lunar House at the same time so not to be late for their appointments. We don’t get the opportunity to talk to them properly to determine their likely risk of detention.

If we are lucky all were can try to squeeze in something like

“Can I give you one of these brother? It’s to help you in case you have any problems inside… I’m sure you will be fine, but just in case, keep this – there are useful numbers on here to help you.”

And hope they will take the leaflet. It’s not ideal as these are vulnerable people who are already very anxious, we don’t want to further alarm them unnecessarily, after all more than 99% of them will not be detained in any case.

But at the same time we cannot underestimate how the information on the leaflet may protect those who are detained. If a person knows they have options available then they are less likely to be pressured to sign something without first exploring the alternatives like calling one of the numbers mentioned on the leaflet. The Rwanda scheme, founded on illegality, counts on people not knowing their rights.

Immigration Enforcement van at Lunar House
The Young Couple

During the tail end of one of these rushes I handed a leaflet to a young black couple. The man smiled and took the leaflet and rushed in whilst his partner waited outside. She very graciously thanked us for the work we were doing, and asked if her partner will be coming out from the same entrance. I replied that’s it’s the very least we can do for our community when sections of it are targeted like this, and explained that they usually come out from the back or side exits.

She went and sat down on the wall, waiting for her partner. I continued leafleting. Half an hour later I noticed she was still waiting, an hour passed she was still there. Most routine appointments only take 15-20minutes. I approached her “sister, are you still waiting for him?” She replied “I think they have taken him”. My heart sank whilst I tried not to reveal the emotion on my face in case it added to her anxiety.

She explained that months ago he had received a letter from the home office which did mention Rwanda as a possibility, but since then the high court had ruled it illegal and there was no further mention of Rwanda, things were back to before. They weren’t expecting this.

She tried phoning him but there was no reply, it’s usual practice for detention officers to take mobile phones away. Another more experienced volunteer took on her case whilst I went back to leafleting.

The mundane task of leafleting had suddenly taken on a higher sense of importance – what if one of the people I had missed was now being detained, without the information on the leaflet to help him? I was determined not to miss any more people entering the building.

Another hour passed and she was still sitting on the wall waiting for her partner. Then she suddenly got up and ran towards the side of building where the car park exit is. I chased after her. There was a police van exiting. Three police officers in front of the van had formed a line and prevented her from reaching the van and she turned back. When I caught up I asked her what happened, she thought her partner was in the van but the police had told her he wasn’t and turned her back, but she wasn’t sure. Ignoring the police line I walked through it making sure to avoid eye contact, it worked, I got through.

There were two police in the front seats of the van, I walked past the driver’s open window, again making sure to avoid eye contact in case they turned me back. Went straight to the back and tried to peer in through the smoked windows. The driver shouted “what are you doing!”, I replied “is he in there?”. He said it was empty, I hesitantly asked “can I see?”. To my surprise the policeman in the driver seat jumped out and slide the side door open. Both rows of seats were indeed empty apart from some bottles of water and an empty pastry box with a clear window. They were toying with me.

Unknown to us at the time, the abducted African asylum seeker had already been smuggled out and was on his way to a detention centre in Gatwick. Another half hour went before we got confirmation he was imprisoned in Gatwick. The lady tried to keep her composure, holding back her tears for us, but her life was shattered. I don’t know if they had any children, or what was worse – explaining to them that their father wasn’t coming home, or going back to an empty home.

This was the first abduction that had happened on our watch as it were. We felt so powerless in our inability to stop it.

Immigration van on standby at the back of Lunar House
Abductions Every Day

This was not an isolated incident, every single day we attended we saw some asylum seekers enter the building for what they were told would be a routine 15min appointment, and then not exit. They just disappeared, their loved ones often left waiting outside with no information. Their mobiles are taken so they cannot answer when their worried loved ones call. Once abducted they are sneaked out the back and bungled into , often unmarked, vans and taken to detention camps – essentially prisons. They can be detained indefinitely at these detention camps. Some have been there years without any resolution.

You can imagine the mental torture this results in –  you have no indication how long you are going to be locked up for. Its is a day? a week? a month? a year? 2 years?… you have no idea. Some have been released back into society after years of detention as if nothing happened, showing their imprisonment was wholly unnecessary. Inquest have reported that 41 people have died in these detention centres between 2000 and Jan 2024, 18 of them are suicides. And these are apparently the lucky ones, as there is not enough space so some are locked up in prisons with criminals – 16 of them have died, the vast majority having committed suicide (13).

Sunak has said the flights to deport people to Rwanda with be ready in 12 weeks

To many of us the idea that a person seeking asylum in the uk can be forcefully deported to a country they have never been to and have no connection with seems unbelievably, bizzare, funny even – something out of a dystopian comedy. But to those its happening to, it unimaginably cruel, tearing their lives and families apart.

All oppression is linked, whilst leafleting we met two asylum seekers from Gaza.
Plight Of Asylum Seekers

Outside Lunar House we also witnessed the wider problems asylum seekers are made to suffer. Their cruel treatment purposefully designed to punish them for seeking asylum, and to encourage them to drop their application and leave the country voluntarily.

A family with 3 young children, all dragging damaged old suitcases and bags told us they had been given an appointment for registration at the end of the month, but in the meantime they had not been given any place to stay. Accommodation would only come after their registration. Looking into the sad eyes of a seven year old girl, faced wrapped in hijab, it was unfathomable that they were excepted to live for a month with no shelter, no food, no basic essentials! Its wasn’t a gap in the system they had slipped through, rather it was portholes designed into the system to purposely make them fall.

After taking the leaflet, and seeing the list of help numbers they asked which of these numbers do we ring to get accommodation.

A person from the Democratic Republic of Congo who had made the long journey to the Home Office for help with his asylum, was told to wait outside. After two hours waiting he was simply directed to the help line on the website. One of the activists helped the man navigate the help line, he was put on hold for 51 minutes before his mobile ran out of battery.

This was all part of the ‘hostile environment’ purposely created to make life hell for asylum seekers.

Police arrive at Lunar House to facilitate a deportation
Direct Action

Recognising the government’s insistence on ignoring the illegality of their deportation policy some activists, at great personal cost, have taken direct action in physically stopping the detention vans kidnapping asylum seekers. With the raft of undemocratic draconian anti protest laws the government had pushed through in recent years with little parliamentary debate, has meant that these brave activists have had to pay a heavy price for their defence of those most vulnerable in our society .

In Peckham a coach load of asylum seekers bound for the Bibby Stockholm barge was successfully stopped by 100s of activists blocking the coach. The Bibby Stockholm barge is essentially a prison boat ( like the one in Charles Dickens’ 1861 novel Great Expectations, only much larger ). After hours of stand off the immigration officers were forced to return the asylum seekers to their homes where they have been left in peace till today. But 45 activists were brutally arrested, with 3 being charged with blocking the highway. Vindictively some were denied bail, and were instead locked up in prison with real criminals whilst awaiting trial.

Peckham resists
Bibby Stockholm

The Bibby Stockholm, anchored in Dover, is designed to hold 220 people, yet the government aims to packs over 500 asylum seekers in it. The fire service had called it a “potential death trap”.

Two former employee whistleblowers revealed that
“asylum seekers are treated on the barge was like cattle or animals in a zoo… ” Poor conditions included very cramped rooms sometimes with 6 sharing, flooding, raw or mouldy food, bed bugs that left some of the men with multiple bites on their bodies, a shortage of bedding, and flimsy bunk beds so uncomfortable that some of the men slept on the floor. “When they saw the conditions they were expected to live in they all started crying… This place needs to be closed down.” Both whistleblowers said they watched the mental health of the men onboard deteriorate due to the conditions and their anxiety about the progress of their claims – especially the threat of being deported to Rwanda. 

One Asylum seeker, Leonard Farruku, has already taken his life. Racism and Islamophobia are rife amongst the staff. After the death one member of the kitchen staff said it was “one less Muslim mouth to feed”.

Bibby Stockholm 'prison' barge
Direct Action in Croydon

In Croydon direct action has also been attempted with activists blocking the exit of Lunar House car park by sitting down on the road to prevent a detention van of abducted asylum seekers from leaving. Unfortunately there weren’t sufficient numbers to succeed and the asylum seekers were taken.

To her credit Ria Patel, the local Green councillor for the Fairfield ward in Croydon where Lunar House is located, and Marley King who is the Green Party candidate for MP for Croydon West constituency (which includes Lunar House) were both part of that direct action. In stark contrast, Labour politicians have shown no support for asylum seekers at Lunar House.

[Update] Resistance Kitchen joined in another anti-deportation action outside Stonebridge Lodge, located a few streets from our kitchen, when asylum seekers were being deported to the Bibby Stockholm. See the report here:

Stop Deportation Action – Stonebridge

New Leaflets

It seems that other than physically stopping the detention vans taking people, our only recourse was to ensure those being detained had the best information at hand to get help in defending themselves against the insurmountable power of a tyrannical state. That begins with a good leaflet, available in abundance.

The existing leaflets were very good in that they contained all the information in a concise space and were available in over a dozen languages. An impressive achievement.

But there was a serious problem with availability. Activists were expected to print their own at home or a local print shop. This puts a huge unnecessary burden on those who are already giving up their time, sometimes the whole day, to help give out leaflets. Printing in small quantities is also very expensive as we discovered ourselves when we printed 600 a6 leaflets at a local printer’s for a couple of days action.

We also felt that the existing leaflets being so concise, containing for example abbreviations for the organisations to phone with no further details about them, that they perhaps are not as clear as could be. So we decided to redesign the leaflets, padding them out with more information, resulting in a 2 sided a6 colour leaflet.

Once the new design was approved by AADD, the designers of the original leaflet, we sent it for printing. Our initial print run is 15,000 which should be enough for now. According to government statistics there are a total of 21,715 asylum seekers in London, the figure is based on the number of asylum seekers claiming support and hence having to attend regular signing in appointments at one of the two home office locations in London.

New leaflet design (front)
New leaflet design (back)
Keeping Up With Tyranny

The day before the delivery of the leaflets the Home Office issued new guidance on the Rwanda plan : you can now also be forcibly sent to Rwanda if your asylum claim has been refused, withdrawn or treated as withdrawn (and if you have no ongoing claims or appeals). Previously only people who claimed asylum on or after 1st January 2022 and are still waiting for a decision were at risk. This widens the net of those snarled by this draconian legislation.

The new additional advice is that if your asylum claim has been refused or withdrawn, find legal representation as soon as possible. Of course it’s a good idea to get legal advice in any case if you’re asylum claim has been refused as the next step is deportation, though Rwanda was not a destination previously, making the deportation harder.

So a part of the leaflet in effect is already out of date before they were delivered. There is no keeping up with the tyranny of this government!

Distributing new leaflets at Lunar House
Indulging In White Saviour Complex

One aspect of this whole controversy that alarms us is the framing of it, especially in the media and by many commentators.

The premises of the whole policy – that we have a refugee problem in the first place, is not challenged. Racist depictions by government officials of refugees as insect “swarms” invading the UK are accepted as fact. In reality only one half of one percent of our population are refugees, and this includes those from Ukraine, which unlike brown and black refugees, were fast tracked and welcomed by the government. This figure is far below similar sized countries, both in Europe and around the world.

Also the causes that lead to someone becoming a refugee are never explored. White saviour fantasies that people around the world are so envious of the UK and “our way of life” that they will abandon their homes, travel thousands of miles, often taking years to reach the UK, and risk their lives in a dingy to across the sea to reach us, are peddled as reality!

So often western interference in the global south, whether direct military intervention like bombing Afghanistan, bombing Iraq, bombing Libya, bombing Syria, and bombing Yemen, or indirect intervention through bank-rolling terrorist groups, sanctions and economic warfare designed at ‘regime change’ has led to countless deaths, economic collapse, famine, and the inevitable exodus of ordinary people fleeing their homes to save their lives. This is the single most common reason for people becoming refugees. If the UK is serious about “stopping the boats” then it should re-examine its foreign policy.

Instead of focusing on the UKs utter disregard for the human rights of asylum seekers, it’s racist treatment of them and its contempt for international law, the narrative, seeped in white saviour complex, has been turned on its head to focus on Rwanda – if Rwanda can meet the high standards that the UK has set for its treatment of asylum seekers! The UK deflecting its own failures on to an African country.

UPDATE :

On 23rd May Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called for an early election on 4th July, and has admitted that there will be no flights to Rwanda until after the election. Although he is unlikely to win, he is still using Rwanda as a key part of his election campaign. He told his racist audience on GB News : “If you elect me, if I’m Prime Minister on July 5, those flights will go off to Rwanda and we will begin to put in place the deterrent that we need to stop the boats.”

The opposition Labour party shadow paymaster general, Jonathan Ashworth, has said that Labour would ditch the Rwanda scheme. Asked if the party would scrap it immediately, he told BBC’s Politics Live: “Yeah. It’s not going to work. It’s only going to deal with one per cent of the people that it is supposed to deal with. It would be cheaper to put all these people up in the Ritz in Paris than this plan.”

So it would appear that the Labour party will scrap the Rwanda policy, not on its illegality, but on its cost efficiency in getting rid of asylum seekers.

With such unscrupulous parties vying for power, its best to be cautious. Abductions are still taking place so we would advise continue distributing the leaflets even thought the last section on the leaflet about actual deportation to Rwanda hopefully may no longer apply – though some latest reports are suggesting the Home Office is rushing to try and get flights as early as June 24 – before the elections.

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