So our quintessentially awful Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has abandoned her bright ideas of using first St Helena and then Gibraltar as suitable places to transport asylum-seekers to for ‘processing’, and has now hit on the even brighter idea of trying Rwanda for size. As a proven bully whose sacking was cravenly ducked by our inimitable prime minister, resulting in the resignation of his independent standards adviser, Patel could hardly have chosen a country better suited to her temperament, and worse suited to the business of welcoming traumatised and desperate asylum-seekers. There’s nothing like choosing a country best known for genocide as a suitable place for ‘processing’ people a Home Secretary would love to get rid of.
As someone whose treatment of asylum seekers who have managed to reach our shores, notably at the notorious Napier Barracks, demonstrates an open contempt for human rights, Patel will, at best, not have been remotely interested in Human Rights Watch’s views on Rwanda, and, at worst, have felt the attraction of kindred spirits. It isn’t difficult to see why Patel might have felt that attraction:
‘The ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front continues to target those perceived as a threat to the government. Several high-profile critics have been arrested or threatened and authorities regularly fail to conduct credible investigations into cases of enforced disappearances and suspicious deaths of government opponents. Arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, and torture in official and unofficial detention facilities is commonplace, and fair trial standards are routinely flouted in many sensitive political cases, in which security-related charges are often used to prosecute prominent government critics. Arbitrary detention and mistreatment of street children,sex workers and petty vendors occurs widely.’
A Human Rights Watch report on press freedom tells us that ‘In a country where the president coolly gives speeches gloating about the assassination of political opponents, his 2019 warning to online critics that “they are close to the fire” and that one day “the fire will burn them” will likely be taken very seriously. It is not unusual for Rwandan journalists to go missing or end up dead in mysterious circumstances.’ And those who end up ‘dead in mysterious circumstances’ are not confined within the borders of Rwanda: taking a leaf out of apartheid South Africa’s playbook, Rwandan dissidents and critics, not just in in neighbouring Uganda and Kenya but further afield in South Africa and Europe, have been attacked and murdered. Neighbouring Uganda is, of course, the country from which Priti Patel’s own family had to flee to seek asylum from Idi Amin in the UK. They were welcomed; they weren’t immediately sent to Rwanda for ‘processing’.
The almost unbelievable callousness of wanting to send asylum seekers for ‘processing’ all the way to Rwanda, of all places, wasting tax-payers’ money in the process, is sickening. And it is deeply disheartening to know that we have a government and electorate that might take this insane idea seriously. But it is even more sickening to hear Patel hypocritically pretending that what this is all about is stopping asylum-seekers from drowning in the English Channel. It isn’t. Judging by her bullying treatment of asylum-seekers, there is no reason whatever to think that she would give a damn about that. What this is all too obviously about is a base pandering to the xenophobia of traditional, mainly elderly, Conservative Party supporters in the shires and new Tory converts behind the former ‘red wall’.
If you don’t want people to die, don’t force desperate asylum-seekers into small boats at the mercy of people-traffickers. Instead, provide safe routes for them to arrive in the way that Patel’s own family arrived. A report in today’s Independent quotes a Home Office spokesperson going through the necessarily mindless process of defending everything Patel says or does: ‘Our asylum system is broken and we cannot sit idly by while people die attempting to cross the Channel…. We will not rule out any option that could help reduce the illegal migration and relieve the pressure on the broken asylum system.’  ‘Broken’ because brave and desperate people are actually managing to get to the UK to seek asylum despite the Home Office’s best attempts to thwart them. ‘Any option’ now clearly includes looking for help in ‘processing’ asylum-seekers from a country made notorious by genocide. What has our country come to?