To stop the Rwanda flights, our collective demonstrations of solidarity must continue

SOAS Detainee Support (SDS) speak out against the UK Government’s efforts to deport asylum seekers.

‘The Rwanda deportations plan’ explained

In April of this year, UK Home Secretary Priti Patel announced the beginnings of another devastating blow to migrant rights in the UK: the planned deportations of asylum seekers to Rwanda. This has been made possible by the recent introduction of the UK Nationality and Borders Act, which allows the UK Government to transfer migrants to a “safe third country.” In the name of so-called efficiency, Patel claims it will increase the speed at which asylum claims can be processed, prevent trafficking, and reduce deaths in the English Channel. 

In reality, the policy is unethical on many grounds. Although a lot of public discourse has been dedicated to emphasising the cost-inefficiency of the plan and the burden to the taxpayer, we emphasise the human-centred reasons why the Rwanda flights are so detrimental. One area of concern is for the safety of LGBT asylum seekers, with the Foreign Office acknowledging in its very own assessments that in Rwanda, “LGBT individuals can experience discrimination, and abuse, including from local authorities” and that “there are no specific anti-discrimination laws that protect LGBT individuals.” Moreover, UNHCR have opposed the plan on moral and legal grounds as well, mentioning there would be a considerable lack of legal representation and interpretation services available for refugees if they were to be relocated and that this could significantly impact the pre-existing obstacles there are already with appeals processes. Not to mention, the policy sends a clear hostile signal to those without settled status to live in the UK that they are not seen as human, further fostering a climate of racial discrimination and xenophobia against non-Britons (particularly people of colour).

SOAS Detainee Support protest
Image credit: SOAS Detainee Support (SDS) Twitter

The weekends of action to stop the Rwanda flights

In response to the first set of planned flights on the 14th June, SDS organised a solidarity demonstration outside Brook House IRC, a detention centre holding many of those threatened with deportation. Although police had attempted to block the road, we proceeded to the centre accompanied by hundreds of supporters. Dozens of people imprisoned there were gathered in the courtyard, who we chanted with and spoke to across the fence. Chants of “No Rwanda! No Rwanda!” could be heard from the inside. Fortunately, the first Rwanda flight was grounded after last-minute legal challenges and an intervention by the European Court of Human Rights. The precious extra time that lawyers needed to bring their cases was largely thanks to direct action carried out by other activists outside Heathrow Detention Centres. These people delayed vans and couches from leaving. 

And once again, activists from SDS, Solidarity Knows No Borders, and a wide coalition of groups, including All African Women’s Group, Global Justice Now and countless others, also organised another weekend of action from the 16th-17th July to stop the next round of Rwanda Flights. These solidarity demonstrations took place at immigration detention/removal centres (IRCs) and short-term holding facilities across the UK, including Brook House IRC (near Gatwick) and Colnbrook IRC (near Heathrow), and in cities such as Oxford and Bristol. 

The increasing frequency, scale and breadth of support for these demonstrations is vital to stop the flights. It shows those that are most affected by the brutality of borders that we stand in solidarity with them, literally ensuring they can hear and see us and our support for their liberation. A particular moment at the Brook House demonstration embodied this entirely when people inside the detention centre chanted “Set Us Free!” in response to everyone on the outside chanting “Set Them Free!” These demonstrations also form a connection with the wider mass public audience, exposing them to the cruel reality of deportation and detention and the isolation and harm that is inflicted upon migrants as a result of the government’s Hostile Environment strategy.

SOAS Detainee Support protests
Image credit: SOAS Detainee Support (SDS) Twitter

What’s next?

The first flight to Rwanda was cancelled and the next flight has been suspended, reportedly until the Tories elect a new party leader and Prime Minister. The judicial review of the plan has also been adjourned until September. It is also clear the government still intends to go ahead with the Rwanda deportations plan and continues to violently detain and deport people (a charter flight to Nigeria left the UK on 30th June, just two weeks after the first scheduled Rwanda flight). 

While the media coverage of the UK grassroots migrant justice movement has been primarily focused on the actions against the Rwanda flights lately, we want to emphasise that our vision goes beyond this weekend of action and this particular series of deportations. Our collective responsibility to campaign for the rights of migrants doesn’t end here. The only things that need to be stopped anytime soon are the Rwanda deportation flights and those to other countries. SDS and many other grassroots abolitionist/migrant justice groups believe that no one should be in prisons or any form of immigration detention, and no one should have to face deportation. We believe everyone should be able to move and live freely, regardless of where they come from and regardless of their involvement with the criminal justice system. Our ultimate vision is a world without borders and without prisons. Resisting the Rwanda flights is one of many steps towards this goal. We must continue to keep up a mass campaign of pressure to stop the flights, provide what solidarity and support we can to detainees currently in detention, and resist the Nationality and Borders Act. 

Header image credit: SOAS Detainee Support (SDS) Twitter

About the Author

SOAS Detainee Support (SDS) is a grassroots abolitionist group which opposes the global border regime and attempts to break the isolation of immigration detention and support people to resist their imprisonment and deportation. We offer emotional and practical support to those in detention whilst also campaigning for an end to borders and prisons as we know it.