News

© UNHCR/Andrew McConnell

Celebrities urge Commonwealth to stand against refugee deportation to Rwanda

Celebrities, many with heritage from African countries in the Commonwealth including Sophie Okonedo, Martins Imhangbe, Lucian Msamati and Anita Asante, are urging Commonwealth leaders who are attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Rwanda today (25 June 2022), to take a stand against the UK government’s new policy to deport refugees to the same African state.

The open letter, has been signed by more than 20 high profile names which also include Olivia Coleman CBE, David Harewood MBE, Robert Rinder MBE, Juliet Stevenson CBE, Dame Emma Thompson and Benjamin Zephaniah. Addressed to leaders of the Commonwealth the letter calls on them to speak out, “As you meet in Rwanda, the Commonwealth cannot – must not – stay silent on this offensive scheme. Your voices would be a crucial and powerful force to help bring it to an end – and focus instead on genuine solutions.”

“The message is loud and clear – the prospect of being transported to Rwanda, and African countries like it, is enough to put off even the most desperate people fleeing war and persecution from coming to the UK. This tells us much about the British government’s colonial and insulting view of Africa, as a place that is no better than a dumping ground for things – in this case people – it considers a problem.”

Actor Lucian Msamati, who signed the letter, said, “I grew up in Zimbabwe with Tanzanian parents and I’m horrified by the UK government’s view of African countries as a dumping ground for what it regards as a problem. These are Commonwealth countries, not places to be seen as a deterrent for people coming to the UK in need of protection. The UK must instead set up a compassionate and orderly system to support those whoe flee here.”

“I’m proud to have represented England and Great Britain in football,” said Anita Asante, Amnesty Ambassador, former England footballer and member of Team GB at the 2012 Olympics who also signed the letter. “But as someone with Ghanian heritage I am disturbed by the UK’s view that sending refugees to Rwanda, or countries like it, is a deterrent to people fleeing war and violence from coming here. It’s an insult to Africa. And shames Britain.”

The letter highlights how the new UK government policy, included in the Nationality and Borders Act that was passed in April this year, applies to refugees seeking protection in the UK who have not been able to come via a safe route but came via small boat or the back of a lorry. It means that they can be sent to Rwanda with no chance to have their claim heard in the UK and their need for protection will have no bearing on this decision.

Together With Refugees, a campaign coalition with a membership of more than 400 national and local organisations, is calling for the UK government to uphold international law on refugees, and to take responsibility for its share of those who are forced to flee their homes due to war and persecution with a compassionate, fair and orderly approach.

The full letter and list of signatories can be seen below.

Dear Commonwealth leaders,

As you meet in Kigali this week, in a spirit of ‘equality, diversity and shared values’ we urge you to address the UK government’s intention to press ahead with its deeply troubling proposals to deport refugees to Rwanda, as a deterrent to others trying to reach its shores.

While legal action prevented the first deportation flight touching down in Kigali just ahead of you, unless the policy is reversed people arriving in the UK seeking refugee protection will be targeted for deportation to Rwanda simply because they had little choice but to arrive via a small boat or back of a lorry. Their need for protection will have no bearing on this decision. They will be given no chance for their claim to have a fair hearing.

The message is loud and clear – the prospect of being transported to Rwanda, and African countries like it, is enough to put off even the most desperate people fleeing war and persecution from coming to the UK. This tells us much about the British government’s colonial and insulting view of Africa, as a place that is no better than a dumping ground for things – in this case people – it considers a problem.

This ill-planned scheme is not only a scandalous affront to Africa, but also to the Commonwealth, to international law and to the rest of the world – as well as the principle of sharing responsibility to provide protection to refugees across all countries. Many in the UK are taking a stand. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has condemned the scheme as ‘all wrong, for so many different reasons’.

We urge you – leaders of the Commonwealth – to speak out too. As you meet in Rwanda, the Commonwealth cannot – must not – stay silent on this offensive scheme. Your voices would be a crucial and powerful force to help bring it to an end – and focus instead on genuine solutions.

Yours respectfully,

Anita Asante
Benjamin Zephaniah
Dame Emma Thompson
Dame Harriet Walter
David Harewood MBE
David Morrissey
Deborah Frances-White
Gillian Slovo
Juliet Stevenson CBE
Kathy Lette
Lemn Sissay
Lucian Msamati
Martins Imhangbe
Natasha Walter
Nazanin Boniadi
Olivia Colman CBE
Ore Oduba
Robert Rinder MBE
Simon Rix
Sir Mark Rylance
Sita Brahmachari
Sophie Okonedo CBE
Vijay Mistry