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JIM SPENCE: Crying ‘racist’ over Rwanda refugee plans won’t fix our immigration problem

Home Secretary Priti Patel sparked anger when she announced a plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda for processing.
Home Secretary Priti Patel sparked anger when she announced a plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda for processing. Photo: Muhizi Olivier/AP/Shutterstock.

I’ll eat my Peaky Blinders cap if any asylum seeker ever boards a plane from the UK to Rwanda.

It’s a bonkers idea from an unhinged government that is out of ideas and out of time.

But maybe they have done us all a favour, in forcing us to admit we need to finally have a serious conversation about immigration, both legal and illegal.

Even the merest mention of immigration brings out the worst in some people.

Battle stances are quickly adopted with folk climbing into their chosen political bunkers.

And any attempts to have a rational discussion are swiftly bogged down in accusations of racism and intolerance.

As Scots we should be acutely aware of our own history when it comes to immigration.

Hundreds of thousands of our kinfolk left these shores seeking a better life in places like Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the USA.

Some of those people were forced out by the clearances in the Highlands.

Others went from cities and towns with a burning desire to escape poverty and lack of opportunity here.

Echoes of the Irish immigration experience in Rwanda refugee proposals

We should also remember the less than hearty welcome which was offered to our Celtic brethren from Ireland.

People who came here to escape grinding poverty and starvation were often treated appallingly and denied decent employment because of their Catholic religion and the threat it was thought to pose.

Migrants arrive after crossing the English Channel to Dover in small boats last week
Migrants arrive after crossing the English Channel to Dover in small boats last week. Photo: Stuart Brock/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock.

So when those arriving on these shores, having travelled in dinghies across the busiest shipping channel in the world, are told they’ll be sent 4,000 miles away to Rwanda while their applications for asylum are processed, it should trouble our conscience.

The mere mention of Rwanda brings to mind images of the brutal horrors of the civil war in 1994.

It may well be a different place now. But it’s still tempting to conclude that those who have come up with the idea of ‘offshoring’ asylum seekers in Rwanda occupy a similar moral universe as the callous gangsters who smuggle them across the channel.

The idea is ludicrously costly and there’s no guarantee it will put folk off trying to reach the UK or dissuade the people smugglers from their lucrative trade.

But it has finally put the immigration debate centre stage.

What we need to do now is have a mature and serious debate.

And what that debate needs to achieve is finding a workable policy which marries common decency and common sense.

The left need to re-examine their attitudes too

We can surely assess the claims of those seeking asylum without transporting them halfway round the world like latter day convicts.

But we need to find a solution which doesn’t involve an absolute open borders policy.

It’s not something that any other country on Earth currently operates.

Such a policy would place unmanageable stresses and strains on health, education, and welfare services.

Immigration policy protests in London after the plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda was revealed.
Immigration policy protests in London after the plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda was revealed. Photo: Sabrina Merolla/ZUMA Press Wire/Shutterstock.

And these burdens could tip those who have sympathies with the plight of genuine asylum seekers into a more unforgiving stance.

Those on the liberal left are guilty of unhelpful and infantile criticism of anyone who questions what they see as our moral duty to accept all who wish to come here.

It’s a simplistic stance and it fails to address the potential magnitude of a problem which is likely to increase in future in a war torn and economically unjust world.

It’s possible to be critical of this odious policy, while also asking the chattering classes to answer a conundrum – if the UK is such a grim and racist place, why are so many folk keen to leave their own hellholes to live and work here?

This place which, according to some folk is institutionally racist towards foreigners, appears to still offer a degree of magnetism for people fleeing persecution.

Many could seek refuge in countries like France. But they risk their lives on flimsy dinghies in order to reach the UK.

Given that no country can hope to offer a completely open borders approach to immigration – and that the issue has to be confronted sooner than later – humanitarian and workable solutions need to be found.

No easy answers on immigration but we have to find them

We need a system which allows us to consider all cases on merit, as we judge who is truly escaping persecution and in fear of their lives, and who is an economic migrant.

It doesn’t help that the two categories aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.

The EU is often held up as a beacon of light but it has nothing to boast about here.

Its much vaunted freedom of movement was always deeply racist in my book.

It prioritised a mainly white population over those of different skin colour from outwith its borders.

And it also paid Turkey to house refugees trying to reach Europe.

There’s no easy answer to the heartbreak facing those desperate souls seeking a peaceful life away from war and danger. Or those who simply want a better life.

We need to find ways to combine practical solutions with compassion in a deeply divided world, where it remains the case that some have plenty while others have nothing.

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