by David Goodhart
Friday, 15
April 2022
Reaction
09:37

Rwanda: an imperfect but defensible plan

The outrage over the proposal misses the bigger point
by David Goodhart
Priti Patel (L), and Rwandan Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Vincent Biruta. Credit: Getty

The outrage that greeted the Government’s proposal to process illegal channel crossers in Rwanda is quite understandable. A poor country several thousand miles away that suffered a devastating civil war less than 30 years ago and has a doubtful human rights record is an odd place to be sending people escaping Iran or Iraq or Sudan.

But this is also missing a bigger point. The Rwanda plan is designed to be a game-changer, a cutting-the-rope moment. If the plan is implemented successfully, which remains unlikely, it will not have to last very long.

If would-be asylum seekers coming to the UK see that they are ending up in central Africa instead of Pimlico they will stop trying to come, or at least stop coming via the channel. They are likely to prefer a safe country in Europe, from which all of them are coming, to a safe country in Africa.

This is what happened when Australia turned back the boats and made it clear that nobody coming illegally by boat would ever get to stay in Australia. The boats stopped. Closer to home the EU deal with Turkey also involved turning back boats and processing asylum claims offshore.

Whatever the protestations of the UN and the refugee NGOs there is no rich democratic country that can live with 50,000 people a year entering the country illegally in such dramatically visible fashion. It undermines faith in Government and the whole immigration system and is a vivid recruiting sergeant for populist parties, (especially when people with an asylum background become involved in Islamist terror acts).

Countries have rights as well as individuals and the right to control who arrives in the country is an existential one that has just played a major part in the UK leaving the EU.

This principle is, however, in direct conflict with the absolute right of people to come here to claim asylum. Therein lies all the moral, legal and logistical confusion of our current asylum system. Rich countries like the UK accept in theory an obligation they cannot honour because thanks to the liberalisation of asylum rules in recent decades hundreds of millions of people could legitimately claim asylum here, as Labour Home Secretary Charles Clarke pointed out 15 years ago, without even factoring in economic migrants.

Many in the refugee lobby do not think this is a problem because either explicitly or implicitly they favour borders that are as open as possible. But Governments and democratic majorities do regard the size of the potential refugee population as a big problem and so do their best to stop people coming here to claim the right to asylum. We pursue a game of cat and mouse, clamping down on lorries only for people to switch to boats. And so it goes on.

Sensible politicians realise this hypocrisy is unsustainable. Rory Stewart, one of the Government’s sternest critics, said yesterday that “there is an argument for what the Government is doing”. The argument is for a controlled system of safe, legal asylum in which Governments, advised by the relevant NGOs, select those most in need from around the world.

That is why the Rwanda proposal is arguably more ethical than the current free-for-all which favours fit young men (75% of those making the crossings) with the money to pay the smugglers and the energy and ingenuity to beat the system — but only if it is linked to a bigger story of humane control.

Government communication has been strong on the unfairness of the current system but has, so far, missed the opportunity to sell this bigger story. For that requires explicitly ramping up legal asylum routes. Nearly 200,000 people have come by these routes in the past 20 years. But if we are going to be properly draconian about clamping down on illegal entry we need to boost the numbers to 40 or 50,000 a year.

This could be via resettlement schemes (such as those for Syria and Afghanistan and now Hong Kong) or sponsorship schemes (especially led by family members already in the UK) or other imaginative proposals that the NGOs could be usefully employed dreaming up instead of just getting angry at rich country governments.

Humane control is legal, fair and also popular. Initial reaction to the Rwanda plan in the UK was less than enthusiastic, probably partly because it seems, and is, so bizarre and has been so roundly attacked in the media. But the channel boats remain very unpopular and more than two-thirds of the public do not think people who arrive illegally from a safe country should be allowed to claim asylum.

Some sort of deal to stop the boats might yet be possible with post-election France. But in the absence of that a version of Rwanda off-shore processing is not the impossibility its critics hope, and if it works watch others emulating.

David Goodhart is head of the demography unit at Policy Exchange. He is also a commissioner on the Equality and Human Rights Commission but writes here in a personal capacity.

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Clara B
Clara B
5 months ago

It seems an odd idea, but it’s not. The Danes are planning to do something similar and it’s reminiscent of the EU’s deal with Turkey. Not sure it will work, but I am coming to despise those commentators who reflexively criticise any effort to restrict immigration. They are usually pro-open borders but haven’t the guts to say so because they know their stance is incompatible with the continued existence of the welfare state and that the electorate won’t stand for it. If they are pro-open borders, let them make their case, and let it be a numbers-based one: how many people can this small, already crowded island take? (especially given the tripling of populations in the developing world). What if the numbers of migrants continue to grow? (And they are likely to given present trends, climate change and the inability of sending nations to offer opportunities to their young, restless populations). Happy to consider all cogent, carefully costed and mathematically literate analyses. Until that happens, I won’t listen to a word these people say.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
5 months ago
Reply to  Clara B

V well said.

Julian Pellatt
Julian Pellatt
5 months ago
Reply to  Clara B

How many people with fences and gates around their gardens would be happy if these were removed and the world at large allowed/encouraged to enter the grounds without restriction? Very few, if any, I suggest!

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
5 months ago
Reply to  Julian Pellatt

Quite! Virtue signalling is the main motivation of these idiots who oppose ANY meaningful restrictions on immigration.

R Wright
R Wright
5 months ago

Australia managed to get down to 0 boats with a policy like this. Let’s see if Britain can do the same.

Matt M
Matt M
5 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

Oz did it in two years – from 20k arrivals to zero.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
5 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

1400 known deaths at sea, and gawd knows how many unknown, after Gillard “compassionately” reopened the borders.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
5 months ago

On Saturday the 24th May, 1941, at 0600hrs the Battlecruiser H.M.S.Hood was sunk in the Denmark Straight. 1415 souls were lost.

Tom Watson
Tom Watson
5 months ago
Reply to  ARNAUD ALMARIC

Strait.

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
5 months ago

The boats haven’t really stopped coming – it’s just that most of them don’t arrive because the Australian navy pushes them back. God knows how many of those might die after they’ve been pushed back. The ones that get through get sent to our offshore hell-holes where they languish for years and years and years. Australia can’t take all those found to be refugees who want to come here, but neither have we found a very good solution.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
5 months ago

Would be migrants should be given fair warning. If they persist in trying to illegally invade someone else’s country, I frankly have little sympathy. When did ‘illegal’ start to mean that we should above all else feel tremendous sympathy for the law-breakers?

Last edited 5 months ago by Andrew Fisher
Matt M
Matt M
5 months ago

I think this is a wonderful thing for the government to do. People have been angry and upset about uncontrolled immigration for decades and governments have failed to do much about it. Finally it looks as though we might be about to get one of the public’s top priorities fulfilled.

First we dealt with legal immigration by leaving the EU and setting up the current visa system based on a potential migrants skills and salary. If in the future unemployment was high, the minister could increase the minimum earning requirement to bring down the overall number of new arrivals without recourse to Parliament. That is proper control.

Now we can stop illegal immigration by sending out the message that if you try to evade the border checks, you will be found and deported to Africa.

Once both these things are done, immigration – who can come here and in what numbers -will finally be subject to democratic oversight. Not many countries can say that. Certainly not the USA or the EU countries. We should be proud of that.

Last edited 5 months ago by Matt M
Frederick B
Frederick B
5 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

930,000 visas leading to permanent settlement were issued last year, despite continuing travel restrictions for much of the year. That’s about 200,000 MORE than the average gross immigration in the years before Covid. If that’s controlling immigration, then its controlling the numbers UP.

Matt M
Matt M
5 months ago
Reply to  Frederick B

I don’t know those figures – if you have the source I would love to see it. I assume that is largely due to the HK contingent. I have heard the number 300k mentioned (perhaps by Boris in his speech yesterday). I certainly know a couple of HKers at work that have moved to London.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
5 months ago
Reply to  Frederick B

Many of those were EU nationals who had lived in the UK for years though, it was largely a one off affair granting them settled status. If there’s a million visas handed next year I’ll be very surprised

Gary Taylor
Gary Taylor
5 months ago

Set up resettlement camps in Islington, Harpenden, Bristol, and Cambridge. I mean really big ones.

Brian Burnell
Brian Burnell
5 months ago
Reply to  Gary Taylor

There’s space in Oxford too, and most of the university cities.

Andrew Dalton
Andrew Dalton
5 months ago
Reply to  Brian Burnell

Well, those lecture halls need to be used for something

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
5 months ago
Reply to  Gary Taylor

No, set them up in Scotland, there is plenty of space, a bracing climate, and a hostile population. Cumbernauld would be fine choice for the first one, followed by Dounreay for the second..

Stuart Sutherland
Stuart Sutherland
5 months ago
Reply to  ARNAUD ALMARIC

They’d never learn the language!

Jim Davidson
Jim Davidson
5 months ago
Reply to  ARNAUD ALMARIC

perfect,it already looks like an refugee camp ,for the bewildered and criminally insane.

Last edited 5 months ago by Jim Davidson
Frederick B
Frederick B
5 months ago
Reply to  Gary Taylor

Hampstead Heath would be ideal.

Matt M
Matt M
5 months ago

Not sure why we should significantly ramp up asylum cases once we control illegal immigration. Seems to me you ramp up and down depending on the world situation not to meet an annual target.

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
5 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

I can’t see it being ramped down if the NGOs have anything to do with the system. Ramping-up is how the NGOs and Lawyers get their money.

Matt M
Matt M
5 months ago
Reply to  Doug Pingel

Exactly! As with all things, government should dictate the numbers and origins of refugees we will take in. That way, if they are too generous (or too mean), the people can tell them at the ballot box.

Personally I think refugees that have some link to Britain like the BNO Hong Kongers or Afghans who served with the British Army should take precedence. Also European refugees like the Ukrainians.

Last edited 5 months ago by Matt M
Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
5 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

Why European refugees?

Tom Lewis
Tom Lewis
5 months ago

You know exactly why. Either that or you are being wilfully ignorant or deliberately mendacious, neither of which becomes you.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
5 months ago
Reply to  Tom Lewis

Mendacious is such a pompous word 🙂 I am asking because as a white South African of English descent I am certainly not welcome in England. Many South Africans are not being well treated because of reverse racism.

polidori redux
polidori redux
5 months ago

Bear up girl. You might be mixing with the wrong people.

D Glover
D Glover
5 months ago

If we admit South Africans who are white, but not the other sorts, we will be called racist.
If we admit all South Africans we will soon have our own violent townships. Some would applaud the increased diversity.

Tom Lewis
Tom Lewis
5 months ago

“Mendacious is such a pompous word”

I know, I’m sorry, it just popped into my head and tickled my tastebuds, I don’t get to use long complimicated words very often so I just thought, “why waste an opportunity”, but yes you’re right, I’ll try harder next time.

Last edited 5 months ago by Tom Lewis
Ian Barton
Ian Barton
5 months ago
Reply to  Tom Lewis

Nice response.

David Bell
David Bell
5 months ago
Reply to  Tom Lewis

No need to dumb down for poor, little Lesley’s sake.

David Smith
David Smith
5 months ago
Reply to  Tom Lewis

I thought it fitted the response perfectly

David Bell
David Bell
5 months ago

What’s pompous about it? It may be little used and clearly over your head but I think it helps to maintain a good standard on Unherd.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
5 months ago
Reply to  David Bell

Why do you think it is over my head? And why do you assume I am little? Or dumb? Have I ever engaged with you?
Egregious is another pompous word. And it is becoming more and more popular.

Matt M
Matt M
5 months ago

Because you can’t help everyone so you have to choose. I would prioritise 1. Refugees with strong relationship to the UK – Afghan translators, BNO holders, people with family ties or heritage like you. And then 2. Refugees from nearby countries e.g. Ukraine, Bosnia and so on.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
5 months ago

In the unlikely event this is a success we should broaden the project.
We should ‘outsource’ most of our enormous prison population to Africa. Currently, thanks to the Prison Officers Associations powers of collective bargaining, the cost of keeping a UK prisoner is simply astronomical.
There must be plenty of African countries only too willing to take our convicts for a price.
Perhaps we should start will all felons sentenced to five years or more.
We have outsourced most of our industry, so it is high time we did the same with our penal system.

polidori redux
polidori redux
5 months ago

It won’t happen. The government has made no changes to the legal framework that stops illegal immigrants from ever being deported. Announced just in time for the local elections, after which it will be abandoned.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
5 months ago
Reply to  polidori redux

Too true, sadly.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
5 months ago
Reply to  polidori redux

My guess is that this is a process.
This “pilot” will trigger legal challenges – that will generate new legislation to close them … and the cycle will repeat.

D M
D M
5 months ago

Net immigration is perhaps 1000 per day excluding cross Channel migrants. New housing builds are perhaps 400 a day. Birth rate is perhaps 1800 per day. Cross Channel migrants have been as high as 600 per day – already a completely unsustainable level. Critics of the government’s plan, unpalatable as it is, should propose a practicable alternative. Please checkand correct my numbers if they are significantly wrong.

Last edited 5 months ago by D M
Henry Haslam
Henry Haslam
5 months ago

Why are the people smugglers still at large? Are they breaking no law? How many have been arrested and convicted in recent years? What is the punishment? They carry out their business openly and are easy to find: any rootless wanderer with a bit of money can find one.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
5 months ago
Reply to  Henry Haslam

We should ‘employ’ Mossad to extirpate them by any means possible.
They have unrivalled expertise in this field, unlike our good selves.

Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
5 months ago

There’s a element of contempt for the poor of their own countries by the elites who wail about proposals like this one. In Ireland, 23,000 Ukrainian refugees have entered within the last two months. The government has managed to find accommodation for 15,000 of them, which is remarkable as they couldn’t find a shoebox for the 10,000 native pre-war homeless. Of course, in fairness to the Ukrainians, they actually ARE refugees, not economic migrants. Or, to use the old-fashioned term, the deserving poor.

Rachel Taylor
Rachel Taylor
5 months ago

The word “asylum” has lost all its original meaning. The question now is to how many people in the world the UK should offer welfare. Substitute the word “welfare” for “asylum” and you have an accurate description of what is happening. Rwanda seems a perfectly reasonable place to assess a claim to welfare. If a person is seeking refuge, then they have it there; and if they are seeking welfare, they can wait in line.

james curtis
james curtis
5 months ago

The many ‘fit young men’ mentioned, with military training.
It would be better for the world to improve the lot of folk in their own countries, not by filling the pockets of the rulers or ruining the farmers with excess food imports; but by providing skill training and environment project support, carefully overseen.

Sheelagh Hopkins
Sheelagh Hopkins
5 months ago
Reply to  james curtis

How often has that been tried and failed?

polidori redux
polidori redux
5 months ago

Why do you think that?

Simon Denis
Simon Denis
5 months ago
Reply to  polidori redux

I’m not sure “thinking” was involved.

Benjamin Greco
Benjamin Greco
5 months ago
Reply to  Simon Denis

I doubt you are experienced with anything involving thinking.

polidori redux
polidori redux
5 months ago
Reply to  Benjamin Greco

So help us, by explaining why you described this article as “an appallingly racist piece of drivel”.

Last edited 5 months ago by polidori redux
Benjamin Greco
Benjamin Greco
5 months ago
Reply to  polidori redux

It is sad that it isn’t obvious to more people here. The author is saying that these Arab and Muslim people, refugees from a horrific war zone, aren’t good enough to be in our white country so let’s send them to a Central African Dictatorship, so they will stop trying to get into our place. I wonder how a plan to send Ukrainians to Rwanda would go over.

Peter B
Peter B
5 months ago

Correct me if I’m wrong, but did I miss the part of Archbishop Welby’s recent speech denouncing Britain “outsourcing” illegal migrants to Rwanda in which he also denouncerd the many Christian countries these people passed through first for in their turn “outsourcing” their problem to Britain ?

D Glover
D Glover
5 months ago

The population of the world is well over 7 billion. A large fraction of them would be better off living in the UK. Nearly everyone in Africa, India, China, Middle East, SE Asia & S America would be better off living in the UK.
But, that can’t happen, because we lack the housing, the food, the power stations, and even enough water to sustain a larger population.
We import about half of the food we eat, despite having very efficient farmers. No room for growth there.
So the question you have to answer is; how many would you admit to this country? How would you deal with those over and above the limit you’ve chosen?

Zorro Tomorrow
Zorro Tomorrow
5 months ago

Where do relatively young people get the money for these channel crossings? Soros? Rwanda is presumably a strong deterrent, I doubt we’ll be sending many but surely we could cut out the boat trip and give them a direct plane ticket from the nearest european international airport? They’d have the £5k they didn’t hand over to the smugglers.

Edward H
Edward H
5 months ago

I worry whether the Rawanda plan goes far enough. You are still rewarding the would-be illegal migrant with the processing of an application for asylum.
Maybe we need to see how this plan is implemented and beds in, but it may be necessary to strictly say “no, our only asylum routes are [X, Y, and Z] and if you make an attempt to enter illegally you will only be sent back to where you started”. We will probably need to do more to establish field teams who can go near to conflict zones to process asylum applications there, as the other side of the coin to such a policy.
I agree with Goodhart that more needs to be done to sell the positives of a controlled migration and asylum system. My father benefitted greatly from a controlled asylum system (to the USA) when he was a boy and his family had to move.

Chris Bredge
Chris Bredge
5 months ago
Reply to  Edward H

You may be worrying unnecessarily because, as I understand it, the proposed plan offers the would-be illegal migrant the prospect of asylum in Rwanda, not the UK.

Val Colic-Peisker
Val Colic-Peisker
5 months ago

I’m glad to see that D. G. has not written this article as ‘commissioner on the Equality and Human Rights Commission’ – but rather in a ‘personal capacity’. it would be ironic otherwise, and it would beg the question, whose human rights the Commission is concerned with? Rich people’s human rights, obviously. How easy and cosy it is to say ‘we’: “But if we are going to be properly draconian about clamping down on illegal entry…” Etc. The economic and demographic imbalances between Africa and Europe, or the ‘developing’ and ‘developed’ countries, is a stronger factor in this story than all ‘imaginative’ policies ‘we’, who are privileged by the accident of birth, can devise to ‘stop the boats’. Migration has been part of human history from the time homo sapiens spread from Africa to other parts of the planet, and this won’t change, however hard ‘we’ try. In a century, Europeans will have somewhat darker skin – and so what? Presenting the altogether inhumane and odious Australian policy as an example is appaling, especially from someone who calls himself commissioner on the Equality and Human Rights Commission. 

Susan Lundie
Susan Lundie
5 months ago

I’ve had much contact with a wide variety of immigrants in my work over 50 years, many of whom became personal friends. I’m fairly flexible about new arrivals, in particular when it comes to Afghans to whom we undertook to offer asylum should it become necessary in return for assistance in our “nation building” in their country, residents leaving Hong Kong to whom we offered refuge in extremis when our lease ran out, Ukrainians who without doubt need immediate care, and many others genuinely in need of asylum, or are simply migrants willing and able to contribute and integrate reasonably with our society. However, there is a limit to the numbers of extra souls we can stack onto our small island (and provide accommodation, health care, education, livelihoods and the inevitable benefits until they can support themselves) without it having considerable impact upon the wellbeing, taxes, income, and cohesion of those already resident.
If you really believe the likely impact of all this is simply that “Europeans will have somewhat darker skins” you’ve missed a few headlines for a while. It’s not conducive to the public good or the happy integration of a number of ethnic groups to have gangs of men from one of those groups grooming vulnerable young girls with depressing frequency while the police look the other way, or teachers being castigated and their lives endangered by certain religious leaders for unintentionally transgressing “their” rules. That’s just two examples. We are not moving towards a coffee coloured nation, but a bitterly divided one because a proportion of some immigrants arrive with no intention whatsoever of joining with us, but of bending our mulicultural society to fit their idea of civilisation. Who we are admitting needs more efficient control.
Something needs to be done to at least slow down the present accelerating rate of arrivals. No one has so far come up with a better idea than Rwanda. I have additionally read an article in a national newspaper indicating Denmark is also looking at Rwanda as an off shoring base for asylum seekers. Any better suggestions?

Last edited 5 months ago by Susan Lundie