By Justice Markandey Katju–
(Justice Markandey Katju is a former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own)
The British government’s Rwanda plan to get rid of thousands of illegal immigrants coming on boats from France into the UK, a plan that was declared illegal by the UK Supreme Court, but which Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, with an eye on the coming general elections, has vowed to revive in some other way, seems as crazy, bizarre, and Kafkaesque as the Madagascar plan of the Nazis.
Before the Nazis resorted to the plan of deporting Jews to extermination camps in Auschwitz, Treblinka, Sobibor, Belzec, etc, they had made the cuckoo and nutty Madagascar Plan in 1940 to deport European Jews to Madagascar, an island off the coast of south east Africa (a plan that did not eventually materialize).
The Rwanda plan is as madcap as the Madagascar plan. Let me explain the Rwanda plan, envisaged by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and his Home Secretary Priti Patel in April 2022.
The UK is a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention, 1951 as well as to its 1967 Protocol. Under these instruments, if a person entering UK claims to be a refugee from another country, and satisfies the refugee/immigration judge that he is indeed a refugee, he is entitled to permanent residency in the UK, as well as to some other benefits.
The Refugee Convention defines a refugee as “someone who is unable or unwilling to return to his country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.”
Thus, a refugee is one who fears persecution for the reasons above mentioned if he is sent back to his country of origin. An “economic refugee”, i.e. a person who has come to seek a better life, and not because of fear of persecution, is not a refugee, according to the Refugee Convention.
The problem for the UK authorities was this: The thousands of illegal immigrants who were coming on small boats from France to the south east coast of England, would, if caught, immediately apply for refugee status. It took a lot of time processing this claim and determining whether the applicant was indeed a genuine refugee, or had only come seeking a better life.
In the meantime, before a final decision could be reached, these applicants had to be given housing, food, medical care, etc which was costing the British government about 8 million pounds a day, a huge sum that the British taxpayer had to pay.
To reduce this burden, the British government entered into an agreement with the government of Rwanda, a country 4000 miles away in east Africa, to send these ‘boat people’ to Rwanda, where their applications claiming refugee status would be processed and decided. For this, the British government would give 120 million pounds to the Rwanda government, as well as 20,000-30,000 pounds for each illegal immigrant for his relocation to Rwanda and temporary accommodation, food, etc there.
Rwanda was chosen because evidently no other government in Africa or anywhere else (and many countries’ governments must have been approached by the British authorities) was willing to entertain such a crazy, hare-brained, and weird scheme.
The rulers of Rwanda must have received a lot of money under the table for agreeing to it. The UK Supreme Court, in a unanimous verdict, held the Rwanda plan illegal. The judges found that Rwanda could not be considered a safe country to which to send asylum seekers, as the government had argued, because there was a risk that genuine refugees would be returned to the countries they had fled from.
They could have added an even stronger reason to reject the looney, March Hare Rwanda scheme. The thousands of asylum seekers, proposed to be brought from UK to Rwanda, would have been sooner or later subjected to xenophobic attacks by the local people of Rwanda, out of fear that these aliens would take away their jobs and social benefits.
This happened to people from neighboring countries entering South Africa. Immigrants are also unwanted in other countries too.
After the verdict, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is thinking of alternative plans for pushing it through, obviously with an eye on the coming parliamentary elections. But his new Rwanda Plan looks as much a part of Alice in Wonderland as the original one. He proposes to initiate legislation in Parliament to declare Rwanda a safe country, when the Supreme Court has clearly declared it is not so. How can facts be changed by legislation?
But all is fair in love and war, as the proverb goes, and elections are a kind of no-holds-barred war. Anything can be said or done in it, however bizarre and grotesque, as long as it brings in votes.