UK should stop preaching on human rights

(Xinhuanet) 10:57, June 26, 2022

By Xin Ping

Since striking a deal with Rwanda in April this year on sending asylum seekers who arrived illegally in Britain, the United Kingdom has been pressing ahead with the controversial plan obdurately. However, in an embarrassing blow to Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government, the first flight scheduled on June 14 to carry seven asylum seekers to the east African country where their claims would be processed was canceled at the last minute, due to the intervention from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

From the very beginning, criticism on UK's handling of the asylum seekers has been mounting both at home and abroad. The entire leadership of the Church of England denounced the plan as "immoral" and "shameful". The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said that it cannot "stand the judgment of God". A British Member of Parliament (MP) described such a move as "creating a British Guantanamo Bay". It was reported that Prince Charles had privately described the government's plan as "appalling".

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has repeatedly pointed out that the move is unlawful and that people should not be "traded like commodities", urging the UK to "re-think the plans". In the words of High Commissioner Filippo Grandi, the UK's bid to export refugees to Rwanda is "all wrong for so many different reasons", and the precedent it creates is "catastrophic for a concept that needs to be shared like asylum".

Turning a deaf ear to all the criticism and determined to "outsource" the asylum seekers, the Boris Johnson government has made a fine mockery of the UK's commitment to human rights, its international obligations as well as its own integrity and reputation.

For decades, the UK has portrayed itself as the champion of human rights, a paradigm of humanitarianism and a moral vanguard. It frequently "expresses concerns" over the human rights situation in other countries. When it comes to its own refugee and migrant issues, the UK, however, chooses to be oblivious to the human rights standards and humanitarianism, and shies away from its obligations and responsibilities under international conventions. That double standard reveals the UK's real intention to use human rights as a mere tool to achieve its own political agenda.

A core principle of the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention, to which the UK is a contracting state, is non-refoulement, which asserts that refugees should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom. UK's policy of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda is a blatant violation of the principle of non-refoulement, and outright denial of its obligations to protect refugees. It's also suspected that this policy, running counter to the principle of non-discrimination in the Refugee Convention, is targeting mainly at the "unwelcome" refugees from Africa and the Middle East, who the UK government believes are more difficult to be integrated into its society, in comparison with other "white" and "well educated" refugees.

A couple of media reports conveyed the weak voices of the asylum seekers who are facing the fate of deportation from the UK. When asylum seekers at the Brook House detention centre in Sussex were issued removal notice from the Home Office informing them that they would be flown to Rwanda on June 14, they had no other choice but to go on a hunger strike. One asylum seeker from Syria said that upon hearing the news he "started hitting himself and was ready to die". Mohammed, a 45-year-old Iranian Kurd, recalling himself being taken to the deportation flight from his cell at Colbrook removal centre near Heathrow, said "it felt like I was going to be executed", and asked "what crime have I committed to be treated like this?"

When Prime Minister Boris Johnson was defending his refugee relocation policy earlier, he argued that "our compassion maybe infinite but our capacity to help people is not". However, looking back at how obstinately the UK government pushed on with this policy in the past two months and the harrowing stories of the asylum seekers, the world sees more of the British government’s "infinite capacity" to deport refugees rather than its true compassion to help them.

The Johnson government was not held back by the ECHR’s urgent interim measure. Immediately after the grounding of the flight, the UK Home Secretary told parliament that the government was committed to the policy, and "preparations for our future flights and the next flights have already begun". Prime Minister Johnson even made it explicit that in order to circumvent the ECHR, the UK could withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights, a convention that the UK has helped to establish (ironically, Johnson's own maternal grandfather James Fawcett helped to write the convention).

With that, the Johnson government illustrates to the world once again how the UK views and complies with international laws and norms as well as its own obligations and responsibilities under international and regional treaties, and how the UK safeguards human rights values. No matter how far the UK can go with the Rwanda asylum policy, people are just no longer interested in its sanctimonious sermons on human rights.

(Web editor: Sheng Chuyi, Bianji)


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