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Opinion

The Rwanda plan is making me question how safe I really am in the UK 

“The plane might have been stopped but the fear remains,” writes campaigner and Refugee Week ambassador Ali Ghaderi.

Iran is a beautiful country. Growing up there, I had a good life, with a big community of friends and family. But then, suddenly, my life was in danger, and I simply knew that I had to leave. I didn’t know where I was heading to, but I knew I needed to be somewhere safe. Just like all the people that are coming to this country I was fleeing for my life.  

I passed through many countries, but none of them felt safe for me. When I got to Greece, I applied under the family reunion laws of the time to join a relative of mine in the UK.  Even though I had family here, my life was not without its challenges. I was still learning English, and I relied on the kindness of strangers to get me through the first months.  

Still, at least I could walk the streets without fear. Now, though, I am not so sure. Even though I have refugee status, am confident in English and busy with work, a little part of me fears that I too could be sent to Rwanda

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Everyone is affected by this fear. Many asylum seekers I know now don’t want to leave the house, just in case something happens. One of my friends is being bullied by a British student at his college, and he was afraid that if he got involved in a fight, he would be sent to Rwanda. People are staying at home feeling like they are in prison. The Rwandan plan has made them afraid again.  

As an activist, I am worried what will happen to me if I oppose Priti Patel and the Rwandan plan. I still remember a stranger asking a friend of mine why she was travelling with “this terrorist”. It hurt then, and it still hurts now. Already, the phrase ‘get on a flight to Rwanda’ is being used as a term of abuse against those speaking up for refugees’ rights.  

It is hard to know the real Rwanda, because it is such a closed country, although the UK government itself warned last year of “alleged extrajudicial killings, deaths in custody, enforced disappearances, and torture”.  What I do know, is that I’ve met Rwandan refugees. Some of them are Muslim and said it wasn’t safe for them there, and one of them, who is a lesbian, told me it was really difficult for her too. Just as Iran can be safe for some, and dangerous for others, so, too, is Rwanda.   

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These things are scary when it’s your life. Many of those threatened with deportation will have made a perilous journey like I did. They will have headed to the UK because, like me, they have relatives or friends here, a community already established and support mechanisms to help them rebuild their lives. 

My story is just one out of so many. We are not nameless “boat people” who don’t matter. We are not commodities to be traded for cash. We are human beings, with stories to tell, and lives to live. We are volunteers, doctors, nurses, engineers, businesspeople, and charity workers. We are pop stars like Dua Lipa, actors like Ncuti Gatwa, athletes like Sir Mo Farah and even royals like the late Prince Philip.  

The plane might have been stopped by a court ruling, but the fear remains. This Refugee Week, it’s time to celebrate the achievements of refugees, not vilify them. This government could do that by putting an end to threatening the most vulnerable in society with deportation to Rwanda.

Ali Ghaderi is an actor and campaigner and Refugee Week ambassador. You can find out more about the festival here.

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