Farrukh Dhondy | Forget redefining refugee charter; UK should scrap its Rwanda policy

The Asian Age.  | Farrukh Dhondy

Opinion, Columnists

108 million people were forcibly displaced last year as a result of persecution, conflict, violence and significant human rights violations.

175,000 asylum-seekers are kept in camps or state-provided accommodation awaiting reviews of their cases. (AP File Photo)

“The womb has its hungers

The passage knows the code

Procreation’s long journey

One more for the road!”

From The Song of Suleiman, by Bachchoo

Winston Churchill had said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others.

We can assess his contention by surveying today’s world. In the UK both Labour and the Tories pursue policies which don’t spring from any conviction, but from the calculation that they’ll win them votes. The last leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, certainly proposed policies that sprang from his convictions and which he thought would lead the country to social equality.

It didn’t pay off. His overwhelmingly victorious opponent BoJo appealed to the voter’s xenophobia, saying he’d “get Brexit done” and deny Johnny foreigner the right to come to the UK. Prejudice serves democracy. And democracy bows to prejudice?

Consider Iran or Afghanistan -- where there’s no democracy but fanatical religious regimes.

Or Russia -- a mafia state whose population are fed imperial fantasies? We are compelled to agree with the old XL Bully dog.

Which brings us back to Britan and its opportunist, if failing, home secretary, the Goan-Indian-descended Cruella Braverman. Following her predecessor Gujarati-origin Priti Patel, with endorsements from PM Hedgie Sunoch, she attempted to implement the policy of sending a handful of the asylum-seekers who arrive on Britain’s shores by mafia-run dinghy boats, to Rwanda. The cost to the taxpayer of such a deportation policy would be £169,000 per deportee.

The latest statistics say the government would need to spend £1.8 billion to send all 11,000 targeted people who have arrived in the UK across the Channel this year.

Cruella’s intentions have been challenged and scrapped. Under Priti Clueless’ watch, the aborted flight to the East African country is believed to have cost up to £500,000, on top of an upfront payment of £120 million paid to the government in Kigali as part of a “migration and economic development partnership”.

The whole Rwanda nonsense is a political stunt, an attempt to demonstrate to a public which Cruella and Hedgie firmly believe is anti-asylum seekers, that they are doing something firm and unfriendly to dissuade the wretched of the earth from landing on these shores.

And now the latest twist in this political stunt. Cruella has launched an attempt to get the United Nations to change its definition of “refugees”. In the wake of the Second World War in 1951, the UN passed a Refugee Convention which was signed by 146 countries and incorporated over seven decades into UK law. She launched her critique of this convention on a trip to Washington on Tuesday, September 26, speaking at the right-wing “think tank” American Enterprise Institute. Cruella contends that being gay or being a woman, and being in a country in which gay people and women suffer extreme discrimination, is not tantamount to them claiming persecuted status.

Obviously in very many countries, for instance Britain, feminist movements still contend that women are discriminated against. And yes, one may agree with Cruella that this sort of discrimination should not qualify them for refuge in another country such as Rwanda or, OK, Norway. But, gentle reader, we all know that being gay in certain countries or espousing certain religious beliefs such as converting from Islam to Zoroastrianism, carries the death sentence for homosexuality in the first case and apostasy in the other.

If a gay couple or an aspirant Zoroastrian is in danger of being detected by the regime’s religious enforcement brigades and is in danger of being imprisoned and executed, wouldn’t this mortal danger qualify for refugee status under the terms which have passed into British law for seven decades?

Then there is the case of women who want to live as free citizens and not be tortured and killed by the religious thought police as has happened in Iran? Can they not claim to be refugees if they find themselves feeling death by capital punishment misogyny?

According to the United Nations office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 108 million people were forcibly displaced last year as a result of persecution, conflict, violence and significant human rights violations. They’re not all seeking refuge in Britain or indeed in the rest of Europe. Very many of these are in refugee camps in one country or another.

Of course, gentle reader, I understand the anxiety of the British public and of Cruella’s political stunt in characterising asylum seekers as free-loading economic immigrants. But how many of those that land on these shores are such?

Let’s put this Hedgie-Cruella ploy in its political, opportunist or Goebellsian context: the same Tory government has agreed that 5.4 million Hong Kong citizens who hold HK British passports are eligible to come to the UK and claim full British citizenship. Not that very many will make their way here. Still, there are 504,000 Hong Kong and Ukrainian refugees already in Britain.

Cruella and Hedgie make no mention of these as opposed to Cruella’s description of the boat-comers as “an invasion”. This despite the fact they outnumber the boat arrivals by a factor of 2.88. There are no votes in attacking them.

These 175,000 asylum-seekers are kept in camps or state-provided accommodation awaiting reviews of their cases. These reviews can take years. It’s not the UN’s refugee charter that needs reform. It’s Cruella’s home office procedures and some respect for truth and humanity over attempts to win votes through political stunts.