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Sensemaker: The Rwanda Plan

Sensemaker: The Rwanda Plan

What just happened

Long stories short

  • Russian forces fired missiles at Lviv, a major gateway for Nato-supplied weapons, and began its large-scale offensive in Donbas.
  • Ukraine returned a questionnaire to the EU in its bid to join the bloc.
  • Downing Street said Boris Johnson would apologise to parliament for breaking lockdown rules, after telling MPs late last year that no rules were broken.

The Rwanda Plan

Priti Patel, the UK’s home secretary, yesterday called the government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda “a groundbreaking long-term partnership which will set a new international standard”. She was defending a scheme the government knew its critics would find indefensible, but still…

  • Groundbreaking? The plan copies Australia’s offshore processing of asylum seekers, a policy that its government has used for over two decades. Australia spends around £1.9 million a year per offshored asylum seeker.
  • Long-term partnership? Britain’s plan is to run for an initial period of five years and is estimated to cost £120 million. If Australia’s costs are any guide, that amount would cover 63 people over the five-year period. Last year alone, Britain received 48,540 asylum applications.
  • New international standard? The UN refugee agency said Britain’s plans are “unacceptable” and are a breach of international law, which asserts that people are allowed to apply for asylum where they land and shouldn’t be sent to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom.

Rwanda, Patel said, is “recognised globally for its record on welcoming and integrating migrants”. Human Rights Watch found the east African state subjects detainees to arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, and torture, which may be why the British government also considered Ascension Island, Albania, Ghana, Gibraltar, and the Isle of Wight.

Rwanda’s government is said to have agreed to the plan because it’s worried about men leaving the country. Asylum seekers, most of whom are young men, will be given the chance to settle in Rwanda even if their application for asylum is rejected. The plan thus provides a clear incentive to reject asylum applications, for both Britain, which wants to cut immigration, and Rwanda, which needs young men.

​​There are no details so far on who will have oversight of Rwandan processing centres. When Israel’s initiative to send African asylum seekers to Rwanda collapsed a few years ago, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said there was a lot of “secrecy surrounding this policy and the lack of transparency concerning its implementation”. Of around 4,000 people sent to Rwanda between 2014 and 2017 under the scheme, almost all are thought to have left the country immediately and were not given a chance to have their asylum claims heard.

Will the plan work? Transparency, novelty, costs, and legality aside, it’s hard to say whether the plan will achieve its stated objective of breaking traffickers’ business model and deterring inflows of people to Britain. Matthew Rycroft, the Home Office permanent secretary, told Patel: “Evidence of a deterrent effect is highly uncertain and cannot be quantified with sufficient certainty to provide me with the necessary level of assurance over value for money.”

Rycroft said Patel would have to issue a “ministerial direction”, a political order to override the civil service’s concerns over public spending, to go ahead. She did. It’s not hard to see why:

  • Partygate: Boris Johnson’s fines for attending parties at Downing Street during various phases of pandemic lockdown were leading the news until Patel announced the deal with Rwanda. 
  • Tory support: A YouGov survey conducted soon after the announcement found that 39 per cent of Conservative voters gave the plan “strong” backing and 20 per cent said they “tend to support” it. That’s a total of 59 per cent – against the 22 per cent of Tory voters who were opposed. 

There’s been a lot said about the plan being “ungodly” (Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury), symbolic of the “moral bankruptcy” of Johnson’s government (David Lammy, shadow foreign secretary), and representative of the “cruelty” of the Conservatives (The Guardian). But it’s worth remembering that almost 20 years ago, then prime minister Tony Blair tried (and failed) to convince Tanzania to process British asylum claims. 

It’s a measure of the UK’s uneasiness about immigration – except, it now seems, immigration from Ukraine – that this idea has persisted. Its cost, which could run into the billions and which the Home Office says will be met by “new funding”, is effectively a xenophobia tax.

Worth quoting: “We are better than this. Or at least, we used to be.” David Davis, Conservative MP and former Brexit secretary, in the Times’ Red Box.


Stagflation ends streaming 
A pandemic-fuelled boom in video streaming in the UK is over. As prices of essential items like food and fuel continue to rise, and economists forecast a prolonged period of slow growth, households have been cancelling their subscriptions to on-demand players such as Britbox, Disney +, Apple TV + and Now in record numbers. About 1.5 million accounts were cancelled during the first quarter of this year. But 58 per cent of households retained at least one streaming service, the most popular of which were Netflix and Amazon Prime.


Honouring the murderers
Vladimir Putin bestowed an honorary title on a military unit accused of committing war crimes in Bucha. In a statement, Putin told the 64th Separate Motor Rifle Brigade that they will now be known by the title “Guards”, which he described as “a high honour” in recognition of their “special merits, mass heroism and courage shown in defending the Fatherland, upholding the sovereignty and national interests of Russia”. Russian forces withdrew from Bucha, leaving behind dead civilians – some with their hands tied behind their backs – lying across the city’s streets. Ukraine’s President Zelensky said that Russia forces tortured and killed more than 300 people were tortured and killed in Bucha.


Spain Pegasus attacks
Citizen Lab, a cybersecurity research group affiliated with the University of Toronto, found that the phones of pro-independence supporters in Catalonia were hacked with spyware between 2017 and 2020, when Catalonia’s independence movement was at its most vocal. At least 65 individuals were targeted, including the region’s chief and other elected officials, with what Citizen Lab calls “mercenary spyware” sold by the Israeli companies NSO Group and Candiru, which was founded by former NSO employees. NSO’s Pegasus spyware – and that developed by Candiru – is available only to governments. Citizen Lab said it couldn’t offer conclusive evidence to attribute the attacks, but said “a range of circumstantial evidence points to a strong nexus with one or more entities within the Spanish government”. The New Yorker had the scoop, which also reported that the UAE seems to have used Pegasus spyware to hack a phone in Downing Street in 2020.

The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT

Sodium valproate scandal
For decades, doctors have been prescribing a drug to women with epilepsy without informing them of the risks to their pregnancy. Sodium valproate has caused autism, learning difficulties and physical deformities in up to 20,000 babies in Britain. The latest data show it was prescribed to 247 pregnant women between April 2018 and September 2021. Officials were warned the drug harmed foetuses in animal tests in the early 1970s. Reports of babies being born with abnormalities appeared in the early 1980s. An independent review concluded in 2020 that families should be given financial compensation, but the Sunday Times found the government isn’t paying any and the drug is still being handed out, sometimes with stickers over health warnings.

Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitics

Climate GCSE
The British government said it will launch a new secondary education course on natural history. The GCSE will teach students how to “conserve the planet.” It’s one of the first new subjects since the secondary examination system was reformed in 2017 and will be available from 2025. In the latest IPCC report, scientists wrote that greenhouse gas emissions have to peak “at the latest before 2025” in order to limit global warming to 1.5C.

Thanks for reading. Please share this around and tell us what we’ve missed. News tips and story ideas are welcome. Email them to sensemaker@tortoisemedia.com.

Paul Caruana Galizia

Photographs Getty Images

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