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U.K. Prepares Its First Rwanda Deportation Flight

Britain’s new hard-line policy fits in with countries across the West who prefer to keep refugees out of sight and out of mind.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
People protest against the U.K. deportation flights to Rwanda outside the Home Office in London on June 14.
People protest against the U.K. deportation flights to Rwanda outside the Home Office in London on June 14.
People protest against the U.K. deportation flights to Rwanda outside the Home Office in London on June 14. Leon Neal/Getty Images

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, looking at Britain’s controversial asylum policy, a possible North Korean nuclear test, and more news worth following from around the world.

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Britain’s Asylum Flight

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, looking at Britain’s controversial asylum policy, a possible North Korean nuclear test, and more news worth following from around the world.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Britain’s Asylum Flight

Asylum-seekers who had sought to begin a new life in the United Kingdom are instead scheduled to be flown to Rwanda today under a new program launched by the British government.

Clearance for departure came after appeals from human rights groups were dismissed by U.K. courts on Monday. (There is a chance that the flight will still be cancelled due to individual legal challenges; some sources reported that fewer than eight people would be on board.)

“We believe that this is all wrong … for so many different reasons,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi told reporters ahead of the flight. “The precedent that this creates is catastrophic for a concept that needs to be shared like asylum.”

In a public letter to British authorities, Human Rights Watch decried the policy as a “clear abrogation of the UK’s international responsibilities and obligations to asylum seekers and refugees” and argued that Rwanda’s history of human right violations invalidated British claims of a safe haven.

The British government sees things differently, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has argued that the program is necessary in order to deter the human traffickers who help migrants cross in boats from France to British soil.

Opposition politicians have come out against the move, as has Prince Charles, the heir apparent to the British throne, who reportedly described it as “appalling.”

Lower down the power structure, British bureaucrats have also staged their own idiosyncratic protests—posting fake deportation notices for Paddington Bear in government offices.

Foreign inspirations. But it’s not just the British government that seeks to keep asylum-seekers out of sight and out of mind. Across the Western world, politicians have gone to great lengths, and spent billions of dollars, to make sure those seeking asylum—a right under international law—don’t get it on their soil.

A key inspiration for the U.K. policy was Australia, where thousands of asylum-seekers have for years been held in island camps in the South Pacific. In the United States, migrants are kept in Mexico—or turned away entirely on spurious health grounds. And the European Union has paid billions of euros to Turkey to prevent refugees from the Middle East from making it into the bloc, as well as funding the Libyan coast guard to act as a de facto border force.

Politicians in wealthy Western democracies, citing voter anger about refugees—an anger that has in many cases been stoked by far-right politicians and centrists who mimic their policies—are now afraid of losing elections if they appear insufficiently tough.

“One of the things that I’m hearing particularly from politicians is that the general publics don’t care about refugees, particularly refugees from certain countries or regions, and until the general public care, they are not going to enact policies that are more empathetic because they don’t want to be voted out,” said Sally Hayden, the author of My Fourth Time, We Drowned, a book exploring Europe’s refugee policies.

In the United States, it’s a similar story, with politicians too eager to err on the side of security in order to sidestep the fraught politics of migration, despite the solutions available, said Andrew I. Schoenholtz, a professor at Georgetown Law School and co-author of The End Of Asylum.

“We can provide people with work visas, where there are legitimate reasons to do that. And we can also have a functioning asylum system, but it requires serious resources and government will. And the easier answer for the politicians, no matter what party they’re in, is: We’re going to look tough when it comes to the border,” Schoenholtz said.

Hayden holds out hope that the widespread acceptance of Ukrainian refugees may shift some political calculations but points out another aspect of Europe’s policies that could also have appeal.

“No matter how you feel about refugees and migration and all of this: It’s a huge amount of money that is being spent. Could that money not be better spent in a way that would actually improve a situation for vulnerable people?” she said. As Muhammad Idrees Ahmad argued in Foreign Policy in March, one way the West could help is by giving persecuted populations the means to defend themselves.

Recalling Europe’s initial generosity toward Syrian refugees and the subsequent shift to shutting them out or deporting them, he argued that “the real lasting help the West can provide is to prevent people from becoming refugees in the first place. A critical first step in this regard is to restore hope, either by protecting people from military aggression or by giving them the means to resist it.”

Colonial legacies. Of course, as well as being democracies, Western European countries are predominantly white and mostly former colonial powers—a subject that can’t be ignored when it comes to the immigration policies these countries pursue, FP columnist Howard W. French argued on April 28:

“The real problem at work here is not one of legal codes and immigration regimes, as offensive in substance and spirit as they often are; rather, it is something deeper and more personal that has a name many will find unpleasant but that needs to be faced squarely: racism.”

“Deep down, the rich of the world don’t want people of color in their midst in general because they think in terms of hierarchized identity, with Brown being undesirable and Black unbearable … imagining that newcomers of a skin color different from theirs will sully their societies and destroy what they believe makes them special.”

As much as Ukrainian refugees are enjoying a warm welcome today, it might not last Ahmad argued. “Christianity and whiteness have not always been a guarantor of hospitality,” he noted in Foreign Policy. “In Britain, blue eyes and blond hair did little to protect Poles from racism in the 2000s; in the 2010s, the focus of xenophobia shifted to Romanians and Bulgarians.”

The fearful political discourse that dominates in the West comes as climate change is creating more displacement and when rich, aging nations are even more in need of younger workers to prop up tax systems. Indeed, as Rhoda Feng wrote in Foreign Policy last week, “Intensifying heat waves, rainfall, and storm surges—largely a result of the burning of fossil fuels—will displace more than 1 billion people by 2050, hitting poor and disenfranchised populations the hardest,” meaning that without significant policy shifts, “tomorrow’s migration crises will be even more traumatic and destabilizing than today’s.”


Keep an Eye On

North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin said his government believes North Korea has “completed preparations” for a new nuclear test and that “only a political decision” remained.

“If North Korea ventures into another nuclear test, I think it will only strengthen our deterrence and also international sanctions,” Park said on Monday. “North Korea should change its mind and make the right decision.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that in an event of a seventh nuclear test, “pressure will be sustained, it will continue, and, as appropriate, it will be increased.”

Scottish independence. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will launch her campaign for a second independence referendum today, publishing the first of several papers aimed at convincing voters to back a break with the United Kingdom. The independence vote, which the government in Westminster opposes, is expected to take place in late 2023.

A new U.N. human rights chief. The position of U.N. high commissioner for human rights will soon be open after its current occupant, Michelle Bachelet, said on Monday that she would not seek a second term in a surprise announcement. Her decision comes shortly after her visit to China, which was criticized for glossing over documented abuses of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

Israel’s government. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s governing coalition is now two seats short of a parliamentary majority after Yamina party member Nir Orbach left the bloc over what he called “extremist, anti-Zionist elements,” holding the group of lawmakers “hostage.” Bennett said his government may collapse within a “week or two” if defecting members did not return.


Odds and Ends

The Democratic Party of Korea, newly in opposition following its defeat in presidential and local elections, has banned members from using the term “watermelon” in party discourse in a bid to cool discord between rival factions. Watermelon, or subak, has become a byword for duplicity with its contrasting appearance on the outside and inside.

“If you call our party leader a ‘watermelon,’ isn’t that self-destructive? … I hope that you will have more dignified debates using healthy language instead,” Rep. Woo Sang-ho, the party’s interim leader, told reporters in a message to party members.

It’s not the first time the fruit has caused controversy. Palestinians have made the watermelon a national symbol as a way to circumvent Israel’s periodic bans on the flying of the Palestinian (red, black, green, and white) flag.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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