And why would East African Asian refugees support dumping other refugees in a part of the world they themselves were forced to leave?
A lot can happen in British politics in a week, but last week was exceptional. On the Monday prime minister, Rishi Sunak dismissed his interior minister, Suella Braverman, moved his foreign minister, James Cleverly, sideways to succeed her, and appointed a former prime minister, David Cameron, to be foreign minister.
Suella Braverman was dismissed for insubordination borne of her ambition to succeed the PM as leader of the Conservative party after he loses the general election due in 2024. The next day she wrote an open letter to him saying he was weak, incompetent and lacking in integrity about the government’s Rwanda refugee policy of subcontracting the UK’s international obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention to Rwanda.
On Wednesday morning the Supreme Court ruled that the Rwanda refugee policy Braverman was supporting was unlawful because Rwanda was not a safe third country to send refugees despite assurances given to the UK government in a memorandum of understanding (MoU).
In the afternoon an angry Sunak gave a press conference at which he said the government will introduce emergency legislation to deem Rwanda safe in a treaty between UK and Rwanda – a legally absurd proposition. As the former Supreme Court judge, Lord Sumption, remarked the government cannot legislate to alter facts. It cannot legislate that Rwanda is safe if it is not, just as it cannot legislate that black is white.
Not to be out done, on the Friday, Braverman wrote an article in the Daily Telegraph calling for the UK to disapply the 1951 Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights to the Rwanda policy and for the removal of all avenues of legal challenge for refugees arriving illegally in small boats.
The Rwanda policy was logically contradictory and fatally flawed in a Catch 22: the prospect of being sent to Rwanda deters for the same reason Rwanda is unsafe – its poor human rights record. The rationale behind the Rwanda policy was that once automatic removal became an established practice and refugees arriving in small boats were routinely flown to Rwanda, no refugee would risk his life and pay people smugglers thousands of pounds to end up in Rwanda in Africa, a country with a reputation for genocide as recently as 1994. It was a cynical policy that was never going to get passed the courts.
But what is puzzling about the Rwanda policy is not that it was ill conceived or that it was obviously unlawful, but that its most vociferous champions are the children of East African Asian refugees.
The Rwanda policy was launched by Priti Patel when she was interior minister under Boris Johnson between 2019-22. Her parents came to the UK as refugees after being expelled from Uganda by the dictator Idi Amin.
Braverman, who took over as interior minister in 2022, told the Conservative party conference in 2022 that it was her dream and her obsession to see a planeload of refugees take off bound for Rwanda. Her father is East African Asian from Kenya, from where most Asians fled after independence owing to the policy of africanisation.
The Rwanda policy is now the prime minister’s obsession. His parents also came to the UK as refugees from Uganda. Yet this upstart, who had the office of PM gifted to him by his party for his bean counting abilities, is prepared to declare Rwanda safe in defiance of the UK Supreme Court.
It is an ironic coincidence – weird even – that the children of East African refugees who know full well that East Africa, including Rwanda, has a difficult history on human rights are obsessed with sending refugees to a part of the world their parents left as refugees.
It is also incredible that they are thinking of withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). They need to be reminded that it was the European Human Rights Court that alerted the international community about the nature of the immigration laws that were passed to exclude East African Asians like their parents from the UK because of the colour of their skin.
As long ago as 1973 in the case of the East African Asians v United Kingdom the human rights court decided that treating Asian UK passport holders substantially less favourably than indigenous
Brits was degrading treatment, contrary to the prohibition on degrading treatment in article 3 of the ECHR and was discriminatory contrary to prohibition of discrimination in article 14.
Sunak now plans to pass emergency legislation before the next election to enable irregular arrivals to be flown out to Rwanda. It will falter in the House of Lords, the UK’s second legislative chamber that can delay the legislative process by a year in time for a general election, as envisaged by the Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949.
The PM should stop pandering to the right wing fanatics in the Conservative Party – being more Catholic than the Pope will not earn him respect. The mature thing to do is to ponder the problem seriously and seek to find a safe destination for small boat arrivals outside unstable regimes in Africa. There is nothing in the 1951 Refugee Convention or the ECHR that would stand in the way of sending refugees to third countries that are genuinely safe.
Alper Ali Riza is a king’s counsel in the UK and a former part time judge