The Court of Appeal has ruled, rightly, that the Rwanda policy is unlawful. But for anyone having doubts, let’s examine the proposed policy, its ramifications, and why we should take a humanitarian approach to refugeehood.

Refugee Rights Understood

It is important to remember that policies such as the Rwanda policy are not created in a vacuum. While the UK may claim to be helping refugees by deterring them from making dangerous journeys to this country, little is being done to address the reasons why countless men, women and children make these perilous journeys to begin with. Understanding the reasons, helps us appreciate what obligations, if any, nations such as Britain have towards displaced people.

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants stresses the crucial need for safe and legal routes to the UK for asylum seekers in order to prevent human trafficking and exploitation. It rightly points out the illogicality behind having an asylum system while providing no safe routes for people to seek refuge.

As young people, it is crucial that we recognise the role refugees play in our society and challenge the dangerous, racist and anti-immigration rhetoric that underpins such policies as Rwanda.

Refugees and asylum seekers bring diversity, skills and new perspectives to society. In return, displaced people are offered opportunities that may no longer be available in their home countries.

Those seeking refuge should, in most cases, be given the opportunity to rebuild their lives and achieve their full potential in a safe and protected environment. They are likewise entitled to have a degree of autonomy over where this should be. The UN Refugee Convention does not require a person to claim asylum in the first safe country that they reach. This means that people arriving via the Channel can legitimately claim asylum in the UK upon arrival.

We must shape the future we want to see. Showing solidarity and compassion for those that come legitimately to this country in search of safety, is the first step. Holding our government responsible for any attempts to evade their direct duties to provide protection for the vulnerable (by seeking questionable third countries), is the second step.

We must also appreciate, on a human level, the complex reasons why people make these long journeys. Instead of frantically trying to deter them from coming to Britain’s shores, it might be prudent to step back and reflect on our own privilege. After all, we never had to make such a life-altering decision. As Somali British poet Warsan Shire eloquently writes:

‘No one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.’

Bringing Back Humanity

Taking a humanitarian approach to refugeehood means recognising and respecting the human rights and dignity of each asylum seeker or refugee that arrives on our shores. Once we recognise these rights, the idea of having a ‘safe third country’ asylum procedure such as Rwanda will seem unacceptable and unlawful.

At least 120 million pounds was pledged to realise the Rwanda policy. Ramfel, a migrant charity working directly with refugees arriving in the UK, has repeatedly criticised the British government’s cruel and dehumanising approach in what has been called a ‘cash for humans deal.’

A more humanitarian approach to asylum is urgently needed to ensure that those who genuinely seek safety are at the centre of any decision-making. This involves recognising the complex and unique challenges asylum seekers and refugees face when fleeing dangerous environments.

In 2022, there were 74,751 official asylum applications in the UK. The government granted protection to 23,841 people that same year. However, lengthy waiting times add pressure. Without the legal means to work, those waiting for a reply on their visa status are forced to survive for months on the government’s meagre cash allowance of just over £47 for each household member.

The Mental Health Foundation finds that refugees are at a greater risk of experiencing poor mental health. This includes higher rates of depression, PTSD and other anxiety disorders. A survey by the Refugee Council in England suggests that 61 per cent of asylum seekers experience severe mental illness. Despite this, they are less likely to receive support than the general population for a multitude of reasons.

In keeping with the spirit of the UN Refugee Convention, the UK has a clear responsibility to address the issues refugees face on an individual level. For our part, we must recognise that all displaced individuals — until proven otherwise — deserve to be rehabilitated and given the opportunity to remake their lives.

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