‘Fairness’? A response to the UK Government’s Rwanda asylum plan

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Written by Hannah Munday, Sona Circle



Fairness, defined by the Cambridge English Dictionary, is “the quality of treating people equally or in a way that is right or reasonable.” According to the Oxford equivalent, it was archaically used to denote ‘gentleness; kindness’, ‘sometimes contrasted with foulness’.

Fairness, was also the word chosen by UK Home Secretary Priti Patel to describe the Government’s newly announced plan to forward unlimited numbers of asylum seekers to Rwanda, 6,000 kilometres from Westminster, with immediate effect. Under the new scheme, asylum seekers entering the UK via unofficial routes, such as by small boats across the English Channel, will be given a ‘one-way ticket’ to the East African country where their claims for asylum will be processed. If successful, they will be permitted to remain in Rwanda. If not, they may be deported all over again.

Justifications of the ‘fairness’ of this plan have emphasised its intention to halt the activities of people smugglers, especially those operating across the English Channel, thereby protecting asylum seekers from trafficking. The Government needs to ‘ensure that the only route to asylum in the UK is a safe and legal one’, Prime Minister Boris Johnson explained. Looking beneath this rhetoric, however, it becomes clear that it is not so much the smugglers that are criminalised by the plan as asylum seekers themselves, and that the Government is more concerned with stopping refugees than unsafe routes. According to Patel, “Access to the UK’s asylum system must be based on need, not on the ability to pay people smugglers.” In other words, being desperate enough to submit your life to the mercy of smugglers, a flimsy vessel and the waves of the sea is deemed a selfish act and unfair privilege. Rather than working to ensure that more people can access safe routes, therefore, the Government intends to punish those who would apparently rather opt for danger and possible death.

Doubts over whether the scheme is purely aimed at combatting trafficking deepen on consideration of its specific terms. A statement from the Home Office described Rwanda as, “recognised globally for its record on welcoming and integrating migrants”, while the Prime Minister pronounced it ‘one of the safest countries in the world’. Only last year, however, UK International Ambassador for Human Rights Rita French reported that Rwanda had not supported a recommendation to ‘conduct transparent, credible and independent investigations into allegations of human rights violations including deaths in custody and torture’, nor ‘to screen, identify and provide support to trafficking victims, including those held in Government transit centres’. In addition to the evident discrepancy between the statements themselves, a plan that purports to be combatting people smuggling by sending potential victims to a country which refuses to take a full stand against trafficking is an extremely concerning contradiction.

Whether the scheme will even deter smuggling in the first place is also debatable. “The plan is not going to decrease the number of refugees”, commented Steve Valdez-Symonds of Amnesty International to the news channel Al Jazeera. “It will inflict a huge amount of cruelty and fuel more dangerous refugee routes to be set up.” Home Office Permanent Secretary Matthew Rycroft similarly noted that he does not “believe sufficient evidence can be obtained to demonstrate that the policy will have a deterrent effect significant enough to make the policy value for money”, and that “there is not sufficient evidence” to conclude that it will act as a deterrent at all.

Rycroft’s former statement perhaps betrays the real problem with the policy by calling attention to the financial aspect. Suppose the Government is looking for ‘value for money in the context of human lives. Is it not, while claiming to fight against people smuggling, entering into nothing other than a form of legalised trafficking? On the other hand, while Patel and others have yet again tried to summon popular support by referencing the high costs of asylum to the UK taxpayer, Tory MP Andrew Mitchell has suggested that, based on credible estimates, it would be cheaper to house asylum seekers in the Ritz than send them to Rwanda. However, whether or not the Government is generating ‘value for money, the common fact remains that it is once again treating refugees as commodities rather than humanity. 

Can this really be described as ‘fairness’ – as ‘treating people equally or in a way that is right or reasonable? Or is it the very opposite – ‘foulness’ rather than fairness?


At Sona Circle, we believe that offshoring asylum seekers to Rwanda is not the solution to the refugee crisis and that the plan only emphasises the urgent need to inject humanity back into conversation and action.


If you too wish to take a stand against the scheme, you can write to your MP using the template supplied by Safe Passage via the link below.






Durmaz, Mucahid, ‘“Inhumane”: UK plan to send refugees to Rwanda sparks criticism’, Al Jazeera (April 15, 2022). Accessed April 19, 2022.



‘Fairness, n.’, OED Online (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2022). Accessed April 25, 2022.



‘Fairness, noun’, Cambridge Dictionary (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2022). Accessed April 25,  2022. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/fairness


French, Rita, ‘UN Human Rights Council: Universal Periodic Review Adoption – Rwanda’, Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (July 8, 2021). Accessed April 19, 2022.



Home Office and Priti Patel, ‘World first partnership to tackle global migration crisis’, Home Office (14 April 2022). Accessed April 19, 2022.



Johnson, Boris, ‘PM speech on action to tackle illegal migration: 14 April 2022’, Prime Minister’s office (April 14, 2022). Accessed April 25, 2022.



Mitchell, Andrew, ‘Andrew Mitchell: The Government’s Rwanda plan will be impractical, ineffective – and expensive’, Conservative Home (April 19, 2022). Accessed April 19, 2022.



Sparrow, Andrew, ‘Home Office chief questions whether Rwanda plan will deter asylum seekers’, The Guardian (April 17, 2022).



Syal, Rajeev, ‘Rwanda Asylum plan: who does it target and is it going to happen?’ The Guardian (April 14, 2022). Accessed April 25, 2022.



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