David Miliband slams 'perverse' Rwanda scheme warning it won't deter people smugglers

14 June 2022, 20:17 | Updated: 15 June 2022, 10:10

By Patrick Grafton-Green

David Miliband has slammed the Government's "perverse" Rwanda refugee policy, warning that it will provide people smugglers with an "incentive" rather than discouraging them.

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The former foreign secretary dismissed the idea that the refugee crisis is unmanageable as "the great lie" and insisted "Britain should process asylum seekers in line with international law".

The first flight of the Government's controversial relocation policy was set to take off this evening after asylum seekers lost last-ditch legal bids to remain in the UK.

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Mr Miliband, who runs the International Rescue Committee, told LBC's Tonight with Andrew Marr: "Things may or may not be legal but if they are legal that doesn't make them right.

"The fundamental problem with this policy is that it treats people in need... as pawns in a wider political game.

"The excuse that this is somehow going to interfere or subvert the smuggling trade is completely risible because of course this policy only deports single men so it's an incentive for the smugglers actually to bring unaccompanied children.

"It couldn't be more perverse in the way it's been structured."

The former Labour MP criticised Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has hinted Britain would consider withdrawing from European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) to make the policy harder to oppose.

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Pointing out that Britain was a founder of the ECHR, Mr Miliband said: "We've had two days when the dominant issue in British politics is the Government setting out brazenly to break the law."

He said polling showed 75 to 80 per cent of British people say someone who has a well-founded fear of persecution at home should be granted asylum.

"The British public has not given up on the idea that if you are not safe in your own home you should find a haven in Britain," he insisted.

"What we've seen in the Ukraine crisis is really quite striking," he added.

"Six million people have arrived in the European Union states, above all in countries like Poland and Hungary, and they've been absorbed very effectively, and what that tells you is that effective management of refugee flows is possible.

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"The great lie is that this is an unmanageable crisis and my point to you is that this is manageable if the wealthier countries get their act together.

“If you look at the number on the boats... they're a fraction of the number of the number of people that are arriving in continental Europe and I would say the evidence... shows that if you manage this crisis collectively and effectively you can do so, if you ignore it then you really will cause problems."

He added: "Britain should process on asylum seekers in line with international law.

"If they pass the asylum test they should be allowed to stay, if they don't pass then obviously they shouldn't and it's a very fundamental basis of not just international law but effective international governance.

"Britain I think has had good periods of its history where it's lived up to these ideals and showed how they can actually benefit the country.

"Refugees are people who become businessmen, they become sportsman, they become part of the fabric of community in an incredibly positive way."