It does sometimes seem, in western society, as though we have forgotten what, exactly, an “asylum seeker” is. A person seeking asylum is not, at least not officially, an economic migrant, or a person coming into a country on holiday, or a person entering with a work permit. They arrive at your borders seeking one thing, and one thing only: Safety. To be granted asylum you must be in legitimate fear of persecution in the country from whence you have come. For example: A gay person in Iran is likely to be hanged in public if caught engaged in homosexual acts. It makes sense, then, to offer them asylum in a country where they will not be hanged.
Right across Europe, though, it is abundantly clear that many people who arrive seeking asylum are not, in the eyes of the authorities, genuine. Even Ireland, which has an extraordinary high rate of approving asylum applications, turns away 15% of all those who apply. Across Europe, 63% of all applications are rejected. You are four times less likely to be rejected in Ireland, but, even at that, the Irish Government still considers many applications to be bogus.
But of course the problem is that even those who have their claims rejected often end up staying here for ages anyway. Appeal after endless appeal, injunction after injunction, and then, once all the appeals have been rejected, years later, another appeal on the grounds that the rejected asylum seeker has “built a life” here, and so on.
The upside of all this is that many people see coming to Europe as worth the risk of rejection, believing that they can sneak through the system, or find some other way of staying. And here’s the kicker: Because of that, many people are incentivised to pay thousands – sometimes their whole life’s savings – to criminal people traffickers who try to sneak them into the west. All to often, at the cost of lives.
Boris Johnson says that his plan to deport failed Asylum seekers to Rwanda is designed to target those traffickers by undermining their business model. After all, he asserts, people will be less likely to risk it all to get into the UK if their end reward might be a one-way ticket to Central Africa.
Nor, he points out, is Rwanda a particularly dangerous place, these days. If you genuinely fear persecution or discrimination, then modern Rwanda is not a place – in the UK Government’s view – which poses the threat of either.
You will not hear many people in the media defend the Johnson plan, though. For one thing, they do not like the man. And for another thing, they do not much like the idea of Rwanda, because for many people, fleeing a third world country is grounds for asylum whether you are under threat or not.
But it need not be Rwanda. For example, it has long been the policy of the European Union to have naval ships patrolling the Mediterranean to rescue people who have capsized during dangerous and illegal crossings from Northern Africa. And, when rescued, to take those people to Europe. Why?
Certainly, there is a moral duty to rescue people from drowning. But there is no moral duty to do the trafficker’s work for them. What it amounts to is this: A people trafficker charges a person their life’s savings for a trip across the sea, takes them halfway, and then relies on the European Taxpayer to finish the journey for them. It’s actively subsidising criminals.
Wouldn’t it make more sense to take these people from the sea and return them to dry land in North Africa where they can spread the word that paying the traffickers is a fool’s errand?
This is the functional equivalent of Boris Johnson’s grand Rwanda plan. And the great and the good absolutely hate it. Presumably because it reveals the truth about their views, which is essentially that anybody who wishes to come here should be able to come here.
As a result, much of the coverage of the plan has been demented. But note what’s been absent: Any better idea.
There is a problem with bogus Asylum seekers. That is not a statement of anything other than fact: When the European average is that 63% of asylum applications are refused, that implies that more than half of those applying do not meet the criteria. And if they have no right to be in Europe, then sending them to a safe country that wants them – in this case, Rwanda – is an entirely sensible idea. No matter how much some people scream about it.