Protesters outside UK Home Office decry plans to move asylum seekers to Rwanda
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the scheme earlier that day, arguing it would “disrupt the business model of [people smuggling] gangs” and deliver a “controlled” migration system promised to the British public.
Protesters at Thursday’s rally, including lawyers, refugee workers and climate activists, slammed the plan as inhumane.
They chanted: “Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here.”
"The British state has constantly acted violently towards asylum seekers and refugees," immigration barrister Zehrah Hasan, who spoke at the rally, told The New Arab.
"I see this policy as an intensified continuation of border violence," she said.
"There are narrow ways we can use the law [to challenge this policy]. But ultimately, the real thrust is going to come on the ground through grassroots action."
When asked about the heavy police presence at the demonstration, Hasan said it was "the highest level I've ever seen". She said she believed it was "intentional", to deter people from letting their voices be heard.
Ben Smoke, who organised the rally after getting a tip-off about the policy, told The New Arab that around 500 people attended the protest to stand in solidarity with asylum seekers and refugees.
He said there would also be a protest in Glasgow on Saturday and further demonstrations are likely to take place, though not organised by him.
The New Arab also spoke to refugee charity workers at the demonstration. Speaking to The New Arab in a personal capacity, they asked not to be named.
One said: “I thought I was passed being shocked, but this morning I could not believe it.
“How is the policy going to work? Are they just going to send single men to Rwanda? From our experience, it is women who are most vulnerable to human trafficking and exploitation. People need safe legal routes to claim asylum in the UK.”
The British government is expected to start shipping asylum seekers who arrived in the UK “illegally” to Rwanda in about six weeks. Johnson said the scheme will be uncapped and provide those sent to the east African nation with “access to legal services” and “the opportunity to build a new life”.
Critics of the scheme, including politicians across Britain’s policy parties and UK refugee charities, have voiced grave concerns over human rights conditions in Rwanda and the potential cost of the scheme, estimated to be £1.4 billion a year.
Reporting by Rosie McCabe, photographs by Alexander Durie