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Suella de Vil: Our Humanity Hangs in the Balance

Staff writer Daisy Eastlake discusses the context of global refugee flows in 2022 and examines the immigration policies of Home Secretary Suella Braverman and the Conservative party.

Suella Braverman, Sunak’s Home Secretary and a cabinet figurehead for the Tory right wing, has faced press backlash over her comments about the “invasion of our southern coast” by “illegal migrants”. Charities, legal professionals and even Tory colleagues denounced her language as “inflammatory” and “heinous”. She shows little sympathy for channel-boat crossings, arguing that not all of them are crisis-stricken refugees. Although, the elephant in the room is apparent – why would economic migrants make life-endangering channel crossings in small, cramped and unsafe dinghies? These people are not crying wolf, but crying war.

This anti-refugee attitude came to a head on 30 October, when Andrew Leak, 66, threw multiple homemade incendiary devices into a migrant processing centre in Kent. Counter Terrorist Policing South East (CTPSE) declared the attack was motivated by right-wing terrorist ideology. Though thankfully no one was seriously injured in the Dover attack, its occurrence reflects a gloomy scene for British politics. News of small boats crossing the channel has not been uncommon news in recent years; unfortunately, neither has the hostility returned by the government.

First World Problems?

To inhabitants of the UK consuming British media, it seems as if refugee overcrowding is a British problem, or at least a solely European one. Yet this is simply not the case. EU countries have actually seen a 4% decrease in asylum applications in the year up to September 2021, and the countries with the largest number of applications for asylum in Europe were Germany and France, with around 200,000 between them. The UK had around 45,000 applicants and had the 18th largest refugee intake per head of population in the EU+ Area (including the European Economic Area and Switzerland).

The problem can not even be solely attributed to Europe. Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Uganda, and Sudan have the largest refugee populations – all of which are outside the EU. At the end of 2021, under 10% of global refugees were within the EU. The United Nations (UN) has described the situation as the “worst refugee crisis since the end of WWII”; and called for governments to come together “behind a more humane and coordinated approach”.

Comparably, the UK and Europe’s share of asylum seeking population seems much smaller than politicians and media are suggesting. The narrative of an ‘unavoidable siege’ sells papers and wins votes. The tactical rejection of refugees because ‘we can’t host them all’ is a smokescreen for growing unwillingness to extend help to those with nowhere else to go.

More Than Just a Priti Face

The Braverman era is an echo of Priti Patel’s time in office, whose anti-refugee rhetoric sustained a ‘hostile environment’ for asylum seekers in the UK, a policy pioneered under Theresa May. The headline policy which characterises Ms Patel’s time as Home Secretary is the Nationality and Borders Bill. Encapsulated by three key initiatives, the Nationality and Borders Bill aims to make a ‘fairer’ system for those “in genuine need of asylum”, deter illegal entry to disincentive human trafficking, and deport people with no right to remain in the UK. On the surface, its policies appear sensible; but their implicit messaging has a sour aftertaste.

The bill has been widely criticised for being inhumane – refugee help foundation FreedomFromTorture deemed it “the biggest overhaul that our asylum system has seen in decades”, and the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) declared that it undermined “the established international refugee protection system”. It is apparent in the international sphere that the UK’s incredibly low tolerance towards refugees and asylum seekers fleeing conflict is simply cruel.

The influence of Patel on the perspective of refugees in Britain lay the groundwork for Braverman, whose continuation of right-wing, anti-refugee policies establish her as a continuity candidate for the Patel doctrine. Much like her predecessor, Braverman’s asylum plan also risks breaking the UN’s refugee convention. Her attempts to ‘blanket ban’ anyone claiming refuge in the UK through illegal means of arrival seemingly clashes with the principle of non-refoulement – sending refugees back to countries where they face serious threats to life.

The Rwanda Plan is also another policy creation of Patel’s that Braverman is eager to deliver. Announced on 14 April 2022, the policy is to send refugees and asylum seekers on a one-way trip to Rwanda – “They may be granted refugee status to stay in Rwanda. If not, they can apply to settle there on other grounds, or seek asylum in a “safe third country”. Although the government repeatedly insists that Rwanda is a safe country for refugees to be relocated to, campaign groups say otherwise. They claim that the scheme is in contradiction with human rights legislation, especially considering Rwanda’s unsavoury human rights record.

In an exclusive interview with Roar News, Conservative MP Sir Gary Streeter commented on the Rwanda refugee plan, stating “we can find a better way to solve the problem than sending people on an aeroplane to Rwanda, and it isn’t my dream to see an aeroplane taking off full of vulnerable [adults] and children going to an African country.” This was alluding to Braverman’s comments that the Rwanda deportation plan was her “dream” and “obsession”.

Not-so-Great Britain 

Braverman and the Home Secretaries before her are contributing to a vitriolic culture of British hostility – Ipsos MORI polling from February 2022 shows that 42% of British people want to decrease immigration into Britain, despite only 29% disagreeing that immigration has had a positive impact on the country. Despite large organisations such as the UN promoting compassionate government and humanitarian conduct as key to resolving the global refugee crisis, ministers such as Braverman, who have the power to whip up nationalist sentiment, hold the real authority.

“How a society treats its most vulnerable is always the measure of its humanity.” Ambassador Matthew Rycroft’s claim has rung true for years, but is still falling on deaf ears. I dread to think how many more news stories it will take, of fatalities in the English Channel, and children washing up on Turkish beaches, before governments realise that they have no right to play God and determine who deserves aid. The refugee crisis cannot be pushed away through criminalisation and flights to Rwanda: our philanthropic practice will improve when we recognise that. Unfortunately, the Braverman era is a black mark on our humanity.

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