‘Now Labour needs an ambitious alternative to the cruel Rwanda scheme’

Sonya Sceats
hyotographics / Shutterstock

The Supreme Court’s momentous judgment against the government’s Rwanda scheme is a victory for reason and compassion.

It confirms what caring people up and down the UK already knew: that this cruel ‘cash for humans’ deal is not only deeply immoral, but also flies in the face of the laws of this country.

‘Labour must double down opposing government plans’

Now more than ever, it is vital that Labour doubles down on its opposition to the expulsion policy for people seeking safety from torture and persecution, and on Sir Keir Starmer’s welcome pledge to repeal this Government’s asylum ban if Labour wins office.

Virulently ati-refugee policies have assumed totemic significance in the battle to defend values of fairness and decency in the face of creeping authoritarianism in Britain.

Labour’s commitment to consider the asylum claims of all those arriving on our shores, no matter how they get here, is a vital step towards ensuring an effective and compassionate asylum system for the survivors of torture we treat clinically at Freedom from Torture, and other refugees in need of the UK’s protection.

It reflects the wishes of millions of people across the country for an end to the politics of division and cruelty against vulnerable groups, and a restoration of decency in public life.

What Labour needs to fix

To deliver on this pledge, a Labour government would need to repeal the now defunct Illegal Migration Act 2023 and in so doing reverse the asylum ban that denies refugees a fair hearing of their protection claim.

The Supreme Court’s judgment makes it near impossible for that pernicious piece of legislation to actually work. They would need to continue and expand the work already underway to get rid of the unforgiveable backlog by fast-tracking grants of manifestly well-founded protection claims, not just from ‘legacy’ applicants but for all those waiting in limbo.

And finally, a Labour government would need to rebuild the asylum system in this country so that it can deliver fair and prompt decisions while treating refugees with compassion and dignity.

Labour needs to reconsider its rhetoric to get a mandate for reform

In order to have a mandate for such progressive reform, Labour needs to reconsider its rhetoric concerning ‘the war on smuggling’. This is not a serious solution to the problems that push people to move across borders in search of protection.

Noone wants to see refugees forced to take risky routes to find sanctuary, but we know that pursuing blunt enforcement policies will not stop people moving to find safety. All it does is push them into taking ever more dangerous journeys.

There is no single solution that will address the challenges associated with refugees taking dangerous routes to safety but an alternative approach, not based on deterrence or punishment, is possible. It must involve international collaboration to address the factors that push people to flee and to press on with their journey to safety.

The current government has presided over some of the most morally abhorrent policies in our country’s recent political history, much of which has been justified in the name of ‘securing our borders’ and ‘dismantling the business model of smugglers’.

Through our clinical work with survivors of torture, we have seen first-hand the very real and devastating psychological toll that this enforcement approach has had on people trying to recover from some of the most horrific human cruelty imaginable.

It’s time to draw a line in the sand

This Government has shown a brazen contempt for the rule of law, whilst whipping up hatred and using refugees and other marginalised groups as cannon fodder for cheap political points. We have seen how anti-refugee politics harm survivors of torture and endanger the fabric of our society.

The Supreme Court has fulfilled its vital role as a check on abuse of power by the executive and stopped the Government in its tracks. It is vitally important, now, that Labour offers an inspiring and ambitious alternative.

We stand with refugees and the millions of caring people in the UK who are calling for a more compassionate approach to survivors of torture and others seeking safety in the UK.

With this judgment, it’s time to draw a line in the sand and abandon the politics of hate and division which has damaged our communities and our moral standing as a country.

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