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Patel’s rotten Rwanda scheme. Cheap, nasty and inhumane. No surprise there, then.

Posted on May 18, 2022

There’s always football.

Saturday at the drop-in for refugees in our area. There are people from all round the world here, drinking tea and grabbing what solace they can from some basic social contact. Their collective memory will be more hellish than anything Bosch or Goya could have conjured.

There is now a grotesque hierarchy, framed by the actions of our politicians, whereby we have good refugees, just-about-OK refugees and downright bad refugees. I find myself chatting to one of the latter. He is typical of many at the drop-in.

He’s in the ‘bad’ category for a number of reasons. He hasn’t escaped the terrors of Ukraine, which is where the good refugees have come from. Neither has he managed to beat the pampered pets to a place on a plane from Kabul to be one of the OK ones who will, eventually, be granted leave to remain. Nope. He’s a bad ‘un. Young, Black, male and single.

We stumble along in a hotch-potch of languages until I chance my conversational trump card. Yes, he loves football and Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema is his favourite player. I nod approvingly and am happy to tell him that today he can watch live football, for free, at his accommodation. The FA Cup Final. He has two questions. Am I sure it’s for free? No subscription channel? I reassure him. And who’s playing? Chelsea and Liverpool. He reels off the names of players on both sides. Elite football is truly an international language.

I’m glad Arsenal aren’t involved. For once, this isn’t about the juvenile footballing prejudices that dog my life and which I should have outgrown decades ago. I’d just spent time with this young man giving him information and resources that I hope he never has to use. As a recent arrival in the UK, he is at risk of being identified as someone vulnerable to the Patel Rwanda pantomime. I really didn’t want to encourage him to watch a game with players proudly displaying an encouragement to ‘Visit Rwanda’ on their shirts and to see that message, literally, up in lights around the stadium.

Arsenal’s sponsorship deal with the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), initiated in 2018, is said to be worth £10 million a year, which, in footballing terms, is Aldi-level purchasing power. Patel’s initial deal with Rwanda is set at around £120 million for an undisclosed number of refugees, which might, at least, buy a superstar and a half. The RDB also has a similar sponsorship deal with French champions, Paris St Germain. Since Patel’s announcement on 14 April, neither club has made any comment about its connection to the RDB. Football really doesn’t give a monkey’s about where the money comes from.

For further proof, go to Newcastle United, recently acquired by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. Not the Saudi government, you understand – the Investment Fund. The Fund Chaired by the Saudi Crown Prince. So it’s not owned by the execution-happy Saudi government at all. And the Fund has promised, promised, honestly promised the Premier League that the Saudi state won’t control the club. All of which seems slightly at odds with its recent decision to adopt Saudi colours on its new kit.

Not, of course, that any of this is directly going to worry my young man for the foreseeable future. Viewing pay-wall football, much less going to see his heroes in the flesh, is way beyond his ambit. What awaits him are weeks, probably months, of boredom, inactivity and occasional brushes with opaque and harassed bureaucracy. He’s young and fit and wants to work and study. If he chooses to walk around the local area, he’ll see sign after sign in local businesses looking for staff. In the drop-in around him there are engineers, IT technicians, musicians, mechanics and even, if you please, a tree-surgeon. And the best that one of the nation’s most senior officers of state can do is to come up with some cheapskate, tawdry – and probably illegal – headline-grabber to pack people off to Rwanda.

I chance a question with my companion. Will people still come on boats? Trains and lorries? Of course. In the UK there will be opportunities and they can have hope. Why wouldn’t they try to get to such a wonderful place? You’ve got to love his faith in this idealised vision.

This is a government that will do deals with one of the world’s poorest countries, whose human-rights’ record it has already condemned. It will sell arms to one of the one of the globe’s chief executioners for use on another of the world’s poorest nations. Under the monstrous pretext of attacking people-smugglers, it will prosecute their victims. It will look for cheap stunts at the expense of real people with talent, ability and dreams.

I’m not sure he’ll be there next week to discuss the game. A blunt system often shifts people around at very short notice. If he’s there, we’ll try to find something to chat about and keep hoping he won’t become a poster-boy for this wretched, vile scheme.

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