A Labour government would stop Rwanda deportations from day one, says Keir Starmer 

Image: West London Welcome does everything it can to make asylum seekers and refugees feel welcome

Labour committed to scrapping the Rwanda policy “absolutely, flights and all”

Keir Starmer made the Labour party’s position on deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda clear this week:

“There will be no flights scheduled or taking off after the general election if Labour wins that general election,” he told Sky News after making a speech about immigration in Deal in Kent.

Andy Slaughter, the Labour MP for Hammersmith, has repeatedly raised the dreadful conditions of asylum seekers in his constituency (which will become Hammersmith & Chiswick at the next election), most recently in a debate in Parliament this week.

He has written a guest blog for us about his experiences meeting asylum seekers at West London Welcome, and says while the government’s Rwanda policy appears to be having no effect on the numbers crossing the Channel, it is certainly causing fear and anxiety amongst those already here.

Guest blog by Andy Slaughter MP

Last month I raised the living conditions of my constituent Trhas Teklehaimanot Tesfay with the Home Secretary in a House of Commons debate on migration. Trhas is one of hundreds of asylum seekers living in hotels and hostels in west London, there are thousands around the country. Net Migration – Hansard – UK Parliament

Nothing unusual about that. My office deals with many similar cases every day. But what made Trhas’ case different is that she is an elite international cyclist who rode for her country before war made her an asylum seeker and who is due to lead Ride London later this month. The Guardian and BBC featured her circumstances.

I met Trhas on a visit to West London Welcome, a charity that helps refugees and asylum seekers with everything from legal advice and English classes to providing nutritious meals.

For many it is a lifeline and the only way of staying physically and mentally fit and well while being processed through the asylum system.

At West London Welcome I had a chance to talk to many asylum seekers. their stories of the abuse and violence that made them flee their homes are all different and all horrifying. Their stories about their treatment by the immigration services in the UK are depressingly familiar.

Firstly, there is the time it takes to process cases, often years instead of months, costing the taxpayer money and leaving the applicants in limbo.

A quicker decision on status would mean those unsuccessful were returned while those granted leave to remain could start contributing to both the economy and society here. I met people with legal and medical qualifications who simply want to get on with their lives and practise their professions.

Secondly, there are the conditions they live in. Small rooms are shared with strangers and many have communal bathrooms – even for nursing mothers, families and those with disabilities.

Served only microwaved food that is lacking nutrition and sometimes rotting and past its sell by date and usually have no option to cook for themselves, given just 8.86 a week and prevented from working, life for those in the asylum system are bleak. Imagine living like this for months, and very often years, on end.

Asylum seekers have become political pawns: from the small boats to the cost of accommodation to the time spent waiting for their cases to be determined.  None of this needs to happen and it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the government likes having the issue at the top of the political agenda.

Where this has led us is the Rwanda Bill. A hugely expensive and almost certainly pointless exercise in trying to show something is being done even if that is just scaring those who are here awaiting a decision on their future.

For while the threat of deportation to Rwanda appears to be having no effect on the numbers crossing the Channel, it is certainly scaring those already here – as I heard from those I met.

Where the Home Office doesn’t have authority to forcibly deport an asylum seeker to Rwanda the Government has been offering money to bribe them to go. I raised one such case recently.

I met a young man with severe disabilities who had been telephoned and offered £3,000 to get on a plane to Kigali which caused him severe fear and anxiety and undid a lot of the confidence he had gained since joining the community services at West London Welcome.

In the UK he has established community and medical support, without which his future would be bleak, and he is very unlikely to find the support he needs.

There are many issues to resolve with our failed immigration services, but blaming, terrorising and deporting without cause those who have sought refuge here is not the solution.

Andy Slaughter

MP for Hammersmith
Labour candidate for Hammersmith & Chiswick.

Find out more about the work of West London Welcome or make a donation here: West London Welcome

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