Former British army chief dramatically intervenes in government’s Rwanda policy
The former head of the British army has attacked the government’s plan to send migrants who arrived on small boats to Rwanda – saying the country is still living under the “shadow of genocide”.
General Sir Richard Dannatt warned of Rwanda’s “dark history” and told The Independent it is not the kind of country to which people fleeing conflicts should be sent.
In an extraordinary intervention, the former army chief also accused home secretary Suella Braverman of “continuing to run down the remaining political capital” of Rishi Sunak’s administration with the “unpopular” policy.
“The government is entitled to bear down on people coming on small boats who are simply seeking a better life,” Lord Dannatt said on the government’s desired crackdown on Channel arrivals.
But he warned: “Whether sending people to Rwanda is the right policy, I have my doubts. It seems to be aimed at deterring others from coming, because there is a strong sanction against them. I’m uncomfortable with it.”
The crossbench peer, who visited Rwanda as chief of the general staff in 2009, sits on the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on war crimes, which looks into those who participated in the Rwandan genocide. He argued that it is unwise to send people from all over the world to a nation still recovering from the political violence that afflicted it in the 1990s.
“I’ve been to Rwanda, and the shadow of the genocide there in the 1990s hangs over that country. It’s ruled with a very firm hand by Paul Kagame,” he said of the current president, a former military commander.
“It’s got a pretty dark history, and it’s not the sort of environment I would put people from Syria and elsewhere in the world into.”
Ms Braverman has come under increasing pressure over the plans after saying it was her “dream” to see failed asylum seekers put on one-way flights to Rwanda. She has also faced criticism over claims that Channel migrants have values that are “at odds” with those of the British people and are linked to “heightened levels of criminality” such as prostitution and drug dealing.
Lord Dannatt said: “It’s somewhat surprising Suella Braverman is persisting with an unpopular policy … I fail to understand why the home secretary is continuing to run down the remaining political capital of Rishi Sunak’s government.”
Former Conservative deputy PM Michael Heseltine also weighed in on the debate, warning that Ms Braverman’s “nasty” comments about asylum seekers are damaging the party. Referring to her remarks about criminality, he told The Independent: “This is not the Conservative Party I joined, and there is a very nasty flavour of commentary beginning to develop.
“I was deeply concerned at the implication that somehow there is a different sort of human being that is seeking refuge in this country.”
Lord Heseltine, who was namechecked by Jeremy Hunt in this year’s Budget, said: “I think the party to which I belonged, to which I still belong, understands that the basic tolerance of colour, class and creed is fundamental to decency and human behaviour.”
Theresa May famously warned in 2002 that the Tories were seen as “the nasty party”, as she cautioned that they would remain out of power unless they changed their image.
Ms May has described the government’s small boats bill as a “slap in the face for those who actually care about the victims of modern slavery”.
Last month, former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith also hit out at what he said were the plan’s unintended consequences for modern slavery victims, saying it was “targeting a group of people that are not the problem”.
The comments come after the continuing legal battle over the Rwanda policy revealed that two Afghan asylum seekers who previously tried to seek safety in the African country were deported and ended up back in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
Documents presented to the Court of Appeal showed that, as the deal was being drawn up in March 2022, two Afghans were turned back from Kigali airport. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said that “at least one of them was affiliated with international forces”, and both said their lives were in danger following the Taliban takeover.
The Rwandan government has denied directly sending them to Kabul, and the UNHCR said they were initially deported to Kenya, onwards to Dubai and then to Afghanistan.