The UK’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda has inspired fresh waves of racist and bigoted language on social media, public figures have warned.
London mayor Sadiq Khan, home secretary Priti Patel, Labour MP Diane Abbott and campaigner Femi Oluwole, among numerous others, have been targeted by online users suggesting that they should be removed from Britain and flown to the east African country.
Discussing the trend, Sunder Katwala, director of think tank British Future, pointed out that the slur was also being used by both left- and right-leaning commentators against people they disagree with or dislike, with those from ethnic minorities being disproportionately targeted.
“We’ve made a fair bit of progress in my lifetime against racism. 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,” Mr Katwala wrote on Twitter.
“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.”
Television presenter and actor Adil Ray also highlighted the uptick in this rhetoric in April, saying: “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 [people of colour]. 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.”
Members of parliament, including Labour MPs Rupa Huq and David Lammy, have also been trolled by Twitter accounts using the slur.
“Even those of us who merely have foreign-sounding names are getting this,” Adam Bienkov, political editor at the Byline Times, said on Tuesday in response to Mr Katwala’s observations on the topic.
Social media companies such as Twitter have recently come under fire for failing to tackle online abuse.
The government’s controversial immigration plans have been challenged in the courts, and were condemned by high-profile figures, including senior bishops in the Church of England as well as reportedly the Prince of Wales, with prime minister Boris Johnson acknowledging that there had been criticism from “some slightly unexpected quarters”.
Hundreds of protesters took part in a demonstration against the scheme outside Brook House Immigration Removal Centre, close to Gatwick airport, on Sunday, and outside the Home Office headquarters in Westminster on Monday.
Last week, The Independent revealed that more than 90 public figures, including musician Akala, football pundit Lineker, and Bridgerton actress Adjoa Andoh, had written to airlines understood to have been engaged to transport refugees to Rwanda to urge them not to go ahead with the flights.
On Monday, three Court of Appeal judges upheld a High Court ruling that the first flight to Rwanda could go ahead, rejecting an appeal by two refugee charities and the Public and Commercial Services union.
Ministers had initially planned that up to 130 people would be on the initial flight, but Care4Calais, one of the charities that brought the legal appeal, said that just seven migrants expecting to be removed still had live tickets.
Three further challenges brought by individuals who face removal are expected to be heard at the High Court on Tuesday.
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