I’m very grateful that in times of crisis there are always people in Scotland who will come out to protest and show their solidarity for the most vulnerable among us.
In response to the UK Tory Government’s brutal plans to off-shore asylum seekers to Rwanda, people of all backgrounds, young and old, those who have been through the process and those who simply can’t accept this policy being done in their name, came together in Glasgow’s George Square on Saturday.
It was clear that this policy had shocked people who were already pretty cynical about the way the Home Office treats fellow human beings.
The anger from the speeches in George Square was palpable.
Treating people as if they were human garbage, rather than vulnerable people with trauma who only seek the opportunity to rebuild their lives, is completely unacceptable.
The Nationality and Borders Bill, which will return to Parliament this week, undermines the 1951 Refugee Convention, an agreement forged in the aftermath of World War II and of which Britain was a key driver.
The United Nations Refugee Agency has been among many organizations who have criticized the UK Government for their plans, with this latest off-shoring announcement heightening the criticism of the dangers and costs of Tory policy.
The Australian government has previously used an offshoring policy, using Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. That policy failed in its objective of determining people from seeking asylum in Australia. It was also expensive – costing over £1million for each person held in the misery of their off-shore detention scheme.
At a time of a severe cost-of-living crisis, it is obscene that Tory ministers would contemplate wasting public money on such an expensive and morally flawed scheme. I also have serious concerns about how this system will be monitored.
In February, I visited Napier Barracks in Kent, along with colleagues from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Immigration Detention which I chair. Napier is being used to accommodate asylum seekers and is woefully inadequate for that task.
The APPG heard from former residents and from agencies supporting current residents that it is difficult for people to access the legal advice they needed for their case, and to get the medical and social support for the trauma that had brought them here.
People were housed in dormitories, with no private space saved for a thin sheet dividing their cubicles.
When coronavirus broke out in the camp, the communal conditions meant it spread like wildfire. Yet this is here in the UK, and at least the APPG can get on a train to Kent to visit, to see round, and to hold the Home Office to account.
There’s very little chance anyone will get to do the same in Rwanda – and that is deeply worrying.
The Tories claim the offshoring scheme will save lives in the English Channel but, in fact, the “small boats crisis” is a wider symptom of a system which doesn’t allow for safe and legal routes for those fleeing.
Many of the people seeking asylum that I see at my surgeries have come to the UK because they already had family here.
Imagine you are a man in your early 20s. Your immediate family have been murdered by the army of a cruel regime, and that regime will force you to fight for them or will kill you. You have a cousin here in the UK. You’ve never had a passport and that regime would not give you an exit visa to leave.
How do you get to the only family member you have left?
Any of us would try our hardest to get as far away from that place as possible, to get to safety and the sanctuary of the only family you have left.
But there is no legal route for this young man – he can’t claim asylum outside of the UK, can’t get on a plane, can’t catch a ferry across the Channel.
Under the Nationality and Borders Bill, if that young man makes it to the UK, the Home Secretary would put him straight on a plane to Rwanda.
It’s beyond cruel.
Scotland wants no part of this, and it must not be allowed to happen in our name.
Voters won’t let PM’s disappointment slide
It feels like no coincidence that the Tories’ off-shoring plans were announced just after the Prime Minister, Chancellor and a number of people at Downing Street received fines from the Met for breaking lockdown rules.
It makes an abhorrent plan all the more vile that it is being used as a mere distraction from bad headlines. We shouldn’t ignore the deception of the Prime Minister.
He stood up in Parliament and told blatant lies about the parties in Downing Street, which by any reading of the Ministerial Code should mean he ought to resign.
The Chancellor also told the House of Commons he had not attended any parties. I have received a lot of emails from constituents, upset not just by the law breaking but by the duplicity.
Devastated medical professionals who couldn’t let people say goodbye in person to loved ones, people who couldn’t hug family at funerals, constituents who struggled through lockdown not seeing a single soul. I’m sure Conservative MPs, who hold the Prime Minister’s fate in their hands, will also be getting similar emails in their inboxes. They have a decision to make.
The Prime Minister and the Chancellor have misjudged the public. Voters aren’t buying the line we can’t change leaders during a war – it’s never been true and it won’t wash now.