As I write this, there are legal challenges being heard against the flight, but, as things stand, the first deportations are scheduled to take place today.
The people who are listed on the flights were only given two weeks' notice. They didn’t have any choice and few if any will even have had their cases heard. Even by the terrible standards of the Home Office, this is an appalling and horrific new low.
Under the new scheme, people living in the UK can be deported to Rwanda for “processing” by a regime with an appalling human rights record. Even if they are successfully “processed” they are unlikely to be returned here, regardless of the lives they have built or the links they may have here. Instead, even if they are granted refugee status, most of them would be given citizenship in Rwanda.
Since the scheme was announced last April, it has been widely condemned by human rights campaigners and lawyers. In the days that followed, a coalition of 160 charities and campaign groups wrote to the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, describing the move as “shamefully cruel” and “draconian” and urging her to reconsider it.
The United Nations has accused the Home Office of abdicating responsibility to others and “threatening the international refugee protection regime that has stood the test of time and saved millions of lives over the decades”. Even Prince Charles is reported to be opposed, with a Sunday paper quoting him in calling it “appalling”.
Their calls were ignored. It’s not that the Tories don’t know about the pain, humiliation, and misery that this policy will inflict. It’s that they simply don’t care.
The scheme didn’t come out of nowhere. It is built on decades of hostility and a Home Office that takes a fundamentally racist approach to immigration and refugees. It is an approach that shows a total disregard for the trauma and pain that people have endured and treats vulnerable people like commodities.
What we need instead is a humane and just approach, with dignity, compassion and respect at its heart. We need to offer safe and legal routes to asylum and a right to housing and healthcare which will allow people to rebuild their lives.
I came to Scotland as a New Scot. I didn’t have to go through the demeaning brutality of the Home Office apparatus to get here. As a white woman from an English-speaking country, I was given a very different experience.
I hadn’t fled war or trauma. I arrived as what they refer to as an “economic migrant” who was here for opportunities. I certainly wasn’t threatened with being locked-up in a detention centre or being sent to Rwanda. The experience that I have had is one that should be available to everyone, regardless of where they are coming from.
The fairer, greener and independent Scotland that I want to build is one that recognises the immense contribution that is made by people who have chosen to make Scotland their home.
These flights are disgraceful and, even at this late moment, I hope that they are stopped. I don’t want Scotland to be part of a system that treats people this inhumanely. But it is not just the flights that need to be stopped, it is the approach that has led to them. It is the Home Office itself and the racist and hostile environment it has presided over.
Lorna Slater is a Lothian Green MSP and Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity