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Understanding the UK's Rwanda Deportation Scheme  with Dr. William Walters

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Expert Analysis on the UK-Rwanda Deportation Deal and the Secrecy Behind it
April 2024

Today's Totalitarianism invited Dr. William Walters to share his insights on the UK - Rwanda's deportation scheme based on The Guardian's news article “Sunak welcomes Kagame to No 10 as Rwanda scheme hits fresh snags." The following is an excerpt from our interview:

TT - What implications does the secrecy surrounding the housing situation in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, have for the affected asylum seekers and the credibility of the deportation scheme?

WW - There is certainly a great deal of secrecy and obfuscation surrounding the UK government’s Rwanda deportation scheme. For example, it has proven difficult to determine the government’s costing. Recent media reports claim the true cost could be as high as 1.8m GBP per asylum-seeker flown to Rwanda. It is also reported that many of the properties in Kigali earmarked for deported people have recently been sold to local buyers. Do such reports damage the credibility of the scheme? Does its failure in the law courts also undermine its credibility? Undoubtedly. But credibility is not the main thing. This is one of those symbolic wedge issues. I think it’s meant to polarize the electorate. You’re either committed to defending our national borders and tackling illegal immigrants and smuggling gangs, or you’re not.

TT- Does the government's refusal to disclose details about airline negotiations and housing arrangements reflect a pattern of information control reminiscent of totalitarian regimes?

WW- The information control is about trying to manage the reputation of a scheme which is extraordinarily costly and hard to justify in terms of value for money. It’s damage control. It’s rather different from the secrecy associated with the regimes you mention. When military dictatorships and totalitarian regimes made people disappear, the secrecy, while never total, was about creating uncertainty and fear amongst the wider population. Disappearance was a technology of terror and intimidation. The Rwanda scheme also has a very significant element of fear attached to it. Its principal claim, after all, is that it will deter future attempts at so-called “illegal” entry into the UK. But secrecy is not the main thing. This is more about showing than hiding: it’s a game of political messaging, a punitive spectacle, and a racist dogwhistle whose intended audience is more the British electorate, or parts of it, than it is people on the move.

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Walters works on secrecy, security, migration and politics at Carleton University. He has recently published State Secrecy and Security: Rethinking the Covert Imaginary (Routledge 2021), and the co-edited volumes Viapolitics: Borders, Migration and the Power of Locomotion (Duke University Press 2022) and Handbook on Governmentality (Edward Elgar 2023).

Cite this article as: Walters, William. April 2024. 'Understanding the UK's Rwanda Deportation Scheme with William Walters.' Today's Totalitarianism

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