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Insecure immigrants in the United Kingdom hoping to benefit from a change in policy after Boris Johnson’s departure should downsize their expectations.

Both the two final contestants for the vacancy in 10 Downing Street – Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss – have ‘promised to push ahead with the plan to send hundreds of asylum seekers to Rwanda.’ Sunak (born of immigrant parents) has gone further, saying ‘he would do “whatever it takes” to get the Rwanda plan “off the ground and operating at scale” and vowed to pursue more “migration partnerships” with other countries.’

Apart from the obvious inhumanity of such forced relocation to fourth world countries like Rwanda 'and other countries', there is a strong parallel in the use of poorer countries being used as a dumping ground for first world’s waste, in this case unwanted migrants.  One alternative given serious consideration by the British authorities was to accommodate migrants on cruise ships anchored offshore. Someone must have realized this might not be the disincentive they intended. In fact, it might just attract yet more hopefuls in search of an unpaid holiday.

Historians must be ruminating over the irony of how, over centuries, the British Isles had successfully deterred invasion by foreigners – the 1588 Spanish Armada, France in the 19th century, and Nazi Germany in the 1940s.  And yet, in this century, a raggle-taggle group of ill-equipped migrants paddling in dinghies have achieved what Philip II, Napoleon and Hitler with their well-prepared plans could not. They have penetrated the white cliffs of Dover. 

This century’s exodus of peoples across continents has tested Westphalian concepts of territorial integrity and national borders. Migrants move with the fluidity of flood waters, breaking down barriers, destroying obstacles, testing conventional defences. With so many displaced persons in countries outside their country of origin – without documents and therefore any verifiable nationality – one wonders how the UN ​High ​Commissioner for Refugees copes. Established after World War II, the UNHCR has a Sisyphean task. It has to respond to the needs of ‘at least 89.3 million who have fled their homes’.

Those whom the British government plans to relocate to Rwanda might like to prepare by reading UNHCR's experience in Rwanda in 1994.  Then, the unprecedented genocide ‘caused a massive refugee crisis’ in which the UNH​C​R found itself trapped between its obligations to ameliorate the sufferings of the refugees and the ‘restrictive refugee policies in so called ‘’rich’’ nations’.

Can these 89.3 million refugees and displaced persons expect any succo​u​r from UNHCR and its parent body - the UN? The answer lies in the person of an amiable Portuguese António Guterres. He spent 10 years as head of UNHCR before being appointed the Secretary-General of the UN in 2017. As an international civil servant living in the rarefied atmosphere of Geneva and then New York, he has never had to inhale​,​ ​as refugees do​,​ the stench of poverty ‘that smells of death’.

Would, one wonders, Senor Guterres have time in his overcrowded schedule to address the pressing issue of 220 million Pakistanis, displaced by democracy?

No Pakistani today watching the political turmoil at the Federal and Provincial levels cannot but feel nauseous. In Islamabad, the PTI (now in opposition) demands fresh general elections without pausing to explain why it is not attending the current National Assembly. It offers no assurance to the electorate that should such general elections be held, it will abide by the result.

In Punjab, the election of the chief minister brought the coalition of 13 disparate political parties in Islamabad in open confrontation with the judiciary. Demanding that a full 13-member bench of the Supreme Court adjudicate on the ruling of a deputy Speaker of the Punjab Assembly, they decided to boycott the three-member bench constituted by the Supreme Court chief justice. This overcrowded coalition had given no assurance that, even if such a full bench were to be constituted (the chief justice had already dismissed the suggestion), it would abide by its judgement, or state what its response would be in the case of a split verdict.

They must know that any decision of the Supreme Court – not partially, not selectively, but wholly - is binding not only on every court in Pakistan, but on each of its citizens. The Constitution and the law are not baubles, playthings. The law, as one diminutive former SCCJ held in the president Ghulam Ishaq Khan/PM Nawaz Sharif case in 1993, ‘is mightier than the King of Kings’. It does not distinguish between tiers of royalty.

It reveals much of today's inverted world that Sri Lanka and Pakistan, ignoring each other's financial insolvency and civil unrest, should nevertheless play cricket against each other. Perhaps our political parties should stop using the Supreme Court as a playground and use the cricket pitch to resolve their differences.​​




 [DAWN, 28 July 2022]



28 July 2022
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