Downing Street’s plan to fly illegal immigrants who arrive to UK shores via the English Channel to East Africa was derailed by a European court at the 11th-hour on Tuesday, after months of criticism and backlash.
But the controversial policy is not just impacting asylum seekers trying to establish a new life in the UK. It has encouraged a new version of an old racist trope.
Activist Sunder Katwala shared a Twitter thread on Tuesday breaking down how the new phrase “send them to Rwanda” was being used across the political spectrum to target anyone who does not share the same views as them.
Katwala explained that it’s the latest form of the racist trope of “send them back” which has been revived in the wake of Downing Street’s controversial approach to asylum seekers.
Katwala, director of think tank British Future, tweeted that the new policy “clearly emboldened racists and the most toxic form of the extreme far right”.
He added: “Unfortunately, one cost of this deliberate political decision to reheat and repolarise the asylum debate is that it has been taken by some racists as a form of permission to use Rwanda as a new form of racist abuse.
“Given the racist use of this ‘send you to Rwanda’ trope, perhaps people might now desist using it as a satirical point against Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, Gary Lineker or whoever you don’t like. I’m sure you could think of another thing to say to show you don’t like them.’”
Pointing out that it was being used by both left-wing people who oppose the policy and right-wingers who back it, Katwala pleaded: “If you’re not a total racist, please STOP doing this.”
He called on people to challenge “members of your own political tribe if they cross the line”.
“One good general rule of thumb with ethnic minority opponents is to check critiques of Patel, Sunak, Javid, Khan. Lammy are things you would say about May, Osborne, Hunt, Livingstone, Benn and to avoid criticism which depend primarily on their ethnicity and heritage.”
He explained that while Patel herself can be dubbed “the architect of this policy which has inspired this new racist trope”, using it against her “is the worst way to do that”.
He said the the online racism was a “by-product of the asylum debate in this country”.
Katwala has not been the only person to point out the problematic new slur ever since the new plan was unveiled in April.
Good Morning Britain presenter Adil Ray tweeted at the time: “I know I’m not alone here but over the past week ‘we should send you to Rwanda’ has become the latest racist slur thrown at POC. Our crime? Not being white and standing up for those worse off than us.
“These racists are radicalised by our ministers, they know the consequences.”
Adam Bienkov, ByLine Times’ political editor, also shared screenshots of some of the abuse he has recently received in response to Katwala’s thread, explaining: “Even those of us who merely have foreign-sounding names are getting this.”
Katwala added in his tweets that he had asked Twitter if the phrase broke its rules on abuse. Social media companies have faced backlash in recent years when it comes to controlling the language used on their sites and taking down hateful messages.
Campaigners have been celebrating following the ECHR’s intervention which stopped the £500,000 flight from going ahead last night, but the government has vowed to fight any future legal challenges.
According to pensions secretary Therese Coffey, the next flight is already being prepared although a departure date is yet to be confirmed.