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Daniel Zeichner: ‘Rwanda deportation scandal is another disgraceful sign of government’s irresponsibility’

Opinion | By Daniel Zeichner, Labour MP for Cambridge

Responsibility. That is a word that we have heard the Conservative leadership candidates espousing in the last week; recognising that this is a core, public service value, which has been trashed by Boris Johnson over the last three years.

Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner. Picture: Richard Marsham
Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner. Picture: Richard Marsham

A trashing that has left the public’s faith in our institutions at a record low, in turn, damaging our democracy. After the chaos of those days prior to the PM’s resignation, it is unsurprising that those looking to replace him are doing what they can to demonstrate their commitment to a fresh start. Calling for a renewal of basic values that should guide those serving in public office; responsibility being one of them.

At the time of writing this, all the Conservative leadership candidates had expressed their strong support for the Rwanda deportation policy. A cruel and inhumane policy that would see refugees and asylum seekers, who have made harrowing and arduous journeys across the Chanel, flown halfway around the world to Rwanda. Where their asylum claims would be conducted, and if granted, they would remain. All for the price of a £120million to the British taxpayer.

Although the government has stated no one will be relocated if it is unsafe or inappropriate, NGOs and charities supporting some of those that have been informed of their removal have stated that it includes victims of human trafficking, torture and alleged minors. If true, that includes children and human beings who have already experienced unthinkable traumas, being put on a plane and sent to a country, where human rights and democratic abuses are well documented.

Priti Patel and Boris Johnson’s justification for this disgraceful policy? To break the business model of the people smugglers, making money off the back of human suffering. Of course, there is no evidence to suggest that this policy will in fact work as a deterrence.

According to government figures, 4,560 people made the trip across the Channel by small boats in the first three months of this year. By the end of last week, that figure had increased to over 14,000, despite the Rwanda policy being announced in April.

When asked by reporters whether the Rwanda policy would deter them from attempting the perilous journey across the Channel, refugees in Calais have said no. These desperate people have made desperate journeys to escape desperate situations and are prepared to take their chances to reach the UK.

If the government wanted to break the human trafficker’s business model, they could ensure that safe and legal routes are available for refugees and asylum seekers to reach the UK. We have seen with the Homes for Ukraine resettlement schemes that it’s possible, when the will is there. I fear however that this is about preventing people from some parts of the world from coming to the country full stop, irrespective of whether they are in need after fleeing war, violence, or persecution.

So, what we have is a policy that is quite frankly about outsourcing responsibility, not taking responsibility. The UK’s responsibility, under international law, to protect refugees and asylum seekers - responsibility to provide compassion and hospitality to people that have experienced unimaginable traumas. No one chooses to become a refugee. I can’t help thinking how different it was when my father arrived in this country seeking sanctuary – it was a country that was decent and welcoming.

The second scheduled flight to Rwanda has, for now been cancelled, until the new leader of the Conservative party is chosen, and a new PM announced.

If we go on what the candidates have said so far, the new Prime Minister will simply continue with this unethical policy. This tells me that there will be no fresh start, no reinstating of core values, no owning responsibility. This is just further proof that this country doesn’t need a change of leader with the same old government, it needs a brand new government and a real fresh start.

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