Rwanda and the staggering double standards over migration

The EU has been ‘subcontracting’ its immigration control for decades – with grisly consequences.

Fraser Myers

Fraser Myers
Deputy editor

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Topics Politics

The UK government’s plan to ‘offshore’ some asylum seekers to Rwanda has been met with wall-to-wall outrage. As ever these days, some of this outrage is justified, but much of it is unhinged. Above all, the Remainer indignation at the plan has revealed some extraordinary double standards in the migration debate.

Under the new scheme, asylum seekers who arrive in Britain without prior authorisation could be flown 4,500 miles to Rwanda in central Africa, where they will be able to apply for refugee status and potentially be settled. Home secretary Priti Patel claims the scheme will deter migrants from making the perilous journey across the English Channel – a journey that, last November, tragically led to the deaths of at least 27 people.

Within moments of Patel’s announcement last week, ‘Nazi Germany’ began to trend on Twitter. This was just like Adolf Eichmann’s plan to deport Jews to Madagascar, said many of the usual suspects in the blue-tick brigade.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby led his own chorus of condemnation on Easter Sunday, using his sermon to denounce the refugee plan as ungodly. To ‘subcontract our responsibilities’ regarding refugees to another country is ‘against the nature of God’, he warned from the pulpit.

The more sober critics of the Rwanda policy have compared it to Australia’s infamous attempts to process asylum applicants in Papua New Guinea and Nauru – two South Pacific island nations more than 3,000 miles from the Australian mainland. As well as being eye-wateringly expensive and apparently ineffective as a deterrent, numerous horror stories emerged from the island detention centres – reports of murders by detention guards, sexual abuse and inhumane treatment are especially shaming. The camp in Papua New Guinea was eventually shut down by local courts in 2017.

But it is telling that leading Remainers, currently posing as defenders of migrants and refugees, have not discussed the immigration policies of their beloved European Union. After all, the EU has outsourced – or ‘subcontracted’, to borrow Justin Welby’s phrase – its migration policies for decades now. ‘Fortress Europe’, which aims to curb migrant flows from non-EU countries, relies largely on beleaguered African countries to police the EU’s borders on its behalf.

Take Libya. In 2004, the EU lifted economic sanctions against then Libyan dictator Colonel Gaddafi. In exchange, he promised to limit migrant flows from Africa. Later, in 2010, Gaddafi warned the EU that he could make Europe ‘turn black’ if it did not heed his demands for an additional €5 billion to guard Libya’s coastline. While European leaders balked at the price tag, they agreed in principle with Gaddafi that he should be paid to keep non-Europeans out of Europe.

Even after Gaddafi’s death in 2011 – and the collapse of the Libyan government following NATO intervention – the EU continued to pay the warlords and militias that filled the vacuum and took over the Libyan coastguard. Frontex, the EU’s border agency, began assisting the Libyan coastguard more directly from 2016. The next year, a bilateral agreement was struck between Italy and Libya, just days before the Malta Declaration was adopted by EU leaders, which promised to provide training, speedboats and a coordination centre to help Libya intercept Europe-bound migrants.

The result of the EU’s outsourcing has been a humanitarian catastrophe. Migrants intercepted by the EU-funded Libyan coastguard are put in EU-funded detention centres. Many allege torture in these centres and some say they have been used as slaves. These centres are, in some cases, run by gang leaders and human traffickers, some of whom have personally shot and drowned hundreds of desperate people trying to reach Europe. The UK’s policy, whatever its many flaws, is not proposing anything near as brutal – at least on paper. Asylum seekers to Britain will not be intercepted by Rwandan officials, let alone state-sponsored warlords, gang leaders and people traffickers.

As well as outsourcing the enforcement of its borders, the EU has tried to dump asylum seekers with its non-EU neighbours. In 2016, the EU signed a deal with Turkey, brokered by then German chancellor Angela Merkel. In exchange for €6 billion, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan promised to stop Syrian refugees from crossing the Turkish border into Greece and Bulgaria. Plus, anyone found to have entered Greece illegally would be sent to Turkey. The message was clear: if you enter Europe illegally, you will be deported to Turkey.

The EU’s dependence on outsiders to enforce its borders has become so acute in recent years that it has made the EU vulnerable to blackmail. Alongside Gaddafi’s threats, Erdoğan has exploited the EU’s fear of external migration. In 2020, Turkey encouraged more than 10,000 migrants to rush to the EU border, in an attempt to blackmail EU countries to assist his military actions in Syria. Similarly, last year Belarussian dictator Alexander Lukashenko was accused of ‘weaponising’ migrants, sending thousands to the Polish border, hoping to force the EU to lift its sanctions.

None of this has ever caused much outrage. Over the past decade or so, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone in our pro-EU commentariat who has condemned this brutal outsourcing of migration policy. And now that the UK has put its Rwanda proposals on the table, none has raised these horror stories as a counter-argument to the government’s proposals. Pro-EU liberals continually refuse to acknowledge the EU’s dirty secret because it undercuts their belief that the EU is an open, freedom-loving, cosmopolitan utopia. All of this leaves the shrillest critics of the UK-Rwanda scheme with no leg to stand on.

After Brexit, we need a serious, open debate about our borders. But going by the response to the Rwanda plan, we won’t get one anytime soon.

Fraser Myers is deputy editor at spiked and host of the spiked podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @FraserMyers.

Picture by: Getty.

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