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Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, a former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.

Britain and Conservative Governments should be proud of their record on refugees.

I went to Rwanda, in both 2008 and 2009, as part of the Conservative Social Action ‘Project Umabano’ led by Andrew Mitchell MP. I was there to teach would-be English teachers English.

During my visits, I saw perhaps some of the most harrowing scenes I will ever witness, as we visited memorial and remembrance sites to the 1994 genocide in which over half a million Tutsi Rwandans were slaughtered in just one hundred days.

One of the sites, at the Murambi Memorial Centre, is indelibly etched into my consciousness. At this awful place of tragedy, you walk into classrooms, seeing mounds of skeleton skulls and stacks of bones from human remains.

Even now, when I think of what I saw, my mouth goes dry, as the awful massacre flashes through my memory. After that visit, I wrote an article, for Conservative Home in 2008, entitled ‘It was as if Bergen Belsen came to the Hills of Rwanda’. It gives some sense of the awful events of the slaughter that took place.

Given the terrible tragedy that befell that country, and the scars of genocide – which the West bears some responsibility for – it is quite remarkable what has been achieved, in terms of education, economic development and infrastructure. This country is not a basket case, as some are suggesting.

That is not to say there are not significant issues and worries around the advancement of democracy, the rule of law and justice. But to imply that Rwanda is not a suitable country for resettlement is at best inverted snobbery and at worst ‘reverse colonialism’.

Is it really only ‘white’ European countries that are suitable places for migrants and asylum seekers? No. The UNHCR began facilitating the voluntary repatriation of Burundian refugees to Rwanda in August 2020. If the Government had announced that these individuals would be processed in Sweden, would anyone have batted an eyelid?

It is worth noting that it was not Priti Patel, but the liberal Conservative, Oliver Letwin who first proposed this policy idea for asylum seekers. As Shadow Home Secretary, he told the Conservative Party Conference in 2003:

“We will replace the present asylum system – in its entirety – with a system of quotas for genuine refugees and the offshore processing of all claims, to deter all but genuine claims for protection from persecution.”

Letwin’s model was Australia: this country had decided to process asylum seekers offshore and reduced the number of boat crossings, deterred economic migrants, and struck a blow to people traffickers.

However, the Australian model was by no means perfect, and left women and children in particular vulnerable to safeguarding hazards. Although the UK is not proposing the exact same process as the Australian model, for this policy to work it will be vital that the correct safeguards are put in place to ensure this never happens.

Controlling one’s borders’ should be a given for any country. Whilst Britain must always be welcoming and kind, an immigration and asylum system must have three tenets: Is it fair to both immigration and the taxpayer? Is it humane? And, does it work?

Currently the system is not fair to the taxpayer, with almost £5 million spent every day to accommodate asylum seekers in hotels up and down the country.

It is not so humane either, because those who are benefiting the most are the people traffickers who are taking advantage of individuals by fleecing them for thousands of pounds, and putting vulnerable children in the hands of people smugglers and modern-day slavery risks.

Will this new system work? Well of course the jury is still out and there are both serious moral and financial hazards ahead but as one colleague noted during the Home Secretary’s statement in the House yesterday, both the EU and UN have used Rwanda as a country for resettlement.

But it is incumbent on those who are expressing opposition to the proposals to come up with serious plans of their own to deal with the problem.

In addition, it is worth reminding ourselves that those who are travelling here on perilous Channel crossings, are coming from France – a safe country where they are able to make an asylum claim.

Contrary to what has been reported, the Conservatives have a proud record on refugees.

Whether it be the 28,000 Ugandan Asians, who came here under Ted Heath in the 1970s, the 20,000 Syrian refugees who were offered sanctuary through the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme during the Cameron years, and most recently, the Johnson Government’s commitment to allow 20,000 Afghans to come to the UK to escape the ravages and barbarism of the Taliban.

Let us also not forget that given China’s ever-tightening leash of control over Hong Kong, Britain has offered the opportunity to every Hong Kong citizen, who wishes to take advantage of the chance, to come and live in Britain.

I am proud that the United Kingdom has, as it has done so often, acted as a haven and sanctuary for so many fleeing persecution. Whether it be the Sir Nicholas Winton Kindertransport for Jewish children during the Nazi era, or the Ukranian refugee scheme developed by the Department for Levelling Up and the Home Office.

In my own constituency of Harlow, I recently met an Afghan refugee who had given great support to the British army, and was transported out of the country last summer, and with other refugees has now been re-settled here with his family.

Of course there are bureaucratic hurdles that need urgently to be overcome. We do, for instance, need a separate Immigration Department fit for purpose and broken away from the Home Office.

But, to those who are fair-minded, they will know that creating a new programme, bringing in many thousands of new citizens, is not always easy. It is not just about visas, but infrastructure too: accommodation, schools, jobs, the NHS, and much more.

Controlling our borders is not the same as being uncompassionate. Far from it. As someone whose father was an immigrant to this country many years ago, I care deeply that our country has outstretched hands to those in need.

Looking at our record, as opposed to the rhetoric, I remain convinced that this is still the case.