Protesters outside the High Court on Monday September 5. Image: Greg Barradale/Big Issue
Treatment of refugees will worsen under Liz Truss, activists said during a High Court protest against the Rwanda policy.
Truss, who has said she intends to “support and extend” the scheme, was announced as the new prime minister as a legal challenge against it returned to the High Court on Monday, weeks after the first flight was grounded.
That promise has combined with fears that Truss’s new government will go further and withdraw from the refugee convention and the European Convention on Human rights.
Inside the court, lawyers said that torture was “routine and widespread” in Rwanda, despite the government’s insistence that those sent there would be safe. The case, brought by the PCS union of civil servants, and the charities Detention Action and Care for Calais, is an attempt to challenge the legality of the policy.
Dashty Jamal, from the International Federation of Iraqi Refugees, said he was “very worried” about a Truss government. He said the justification for the Rwanda policy, of stopping smuggling, did not stand up. “This is all a bullshit. This is not a reason to send people to Rwanda,” Jamal said.
“The message is to suspend that policy, stop that agreement, that shameful agreement, and continue to respect the rights of refugees through the Geneva Convention.”
Jamal, who arrived in the UK as a refugee from Kurdistan in 1997, said the situation now is worse than 25 years ago.
“I believe when I arrived in this country there was still a challenge to fight for the rights of refugees,” he said.
“The government, the Labour party, they brought a new law against refugees. That started from this time until now, and day by day it’s getting worse.”
The protest, of more than 100 people with speakers including MPs Jeremy Corbyn, Richard Burgon, and Bell Ribeiro-Addy, was heavily policed with a small contingent of counter-protesters attempting to disrupt it. Ribeiro-Addy told the crowd it was one of the biggest protests she had seen for the Rwanda scheme.
Poet Michael Rosen, a speaker at the rally, drew parallels between his own family members, who were legally deported to Auschwitz during the second world war, and the government’s current plans.
“Quite often it’s talked about in terms of legality. My relatives were deported legally – sometimes you have to challenge the law,” Rosen told the Big Issue.
“What the Tories are doing is reneging on a deal that was a European-wide, worldwide consensus about refugees”.
He said Liz Truss’s government would be “all the same” unless the policy was challenged in the courts or rendered impossible by public opinion.
And of the counter-protesters, one of whom was escorted away by police after unfurling a “start Rwanda” banner led to a scuffle, Rosen said: “There will always be people that will try to relive the 1930s and 1940s.
“It takes different twists each time. It’s like Morph, it keeps changing shape, you have to identify it the next time you see it.”
Beyond offering her support for the scheme, Truss has also indicated she will make it a priority, with a source in her campaign telling the Mail on Sunday: “She’s determined to see the Rwanda policy through to full implementation as well as exploring other countries where we can work on similar partnerships.
“This will be a top priority if she becomes Prime Minister.”
Fran Heathcote, the national president of the PCS union, said: “It’s part of the same administration and the same policies.
“We will continue the campaign. There’s a lot of support. The government has an agenda of trying to divide people and set them against each other. I’m employed by the DWP where you see workers set against benefit claimants.
“With a policy such as this one you see people fleeing persecution, trying to set them against the British public. Our job is to try and unite all those campaigns.”
Holding a sign reading: “Asylum seekers IN, Liz Truss OUT”, Graham Durham said he had seen the impact of the Rwanda policy on refugees already.
Durham, who works with asylum seekers and refugees in north-west London, said: “They’re being treated abominably, and now they’re being put under threat of removal to a country they’ve never heard of in some cases.
“They already have a lot to deal with, a lot of them aren’t allowed to work. They’re walking all over the city because they can’t afford to travel. They are under threat of being removed in their accommodation at any moment. And then there are more threatening noises – Rwanda being one.”
He said Truss was a “more right wing, xenophobic leader than even Johnson.
“It’s a big worry for everybody – we’ll have to be organised and fight back,” he said.