Ukrainians are white and Sudanese are not — it’s as simple as that
Suella Braverman, the UK home secretary, last week helped shrink Britain further, with her lack of basic empathy toward victims of displacement and conflict not only embarrassing us, but further accelerating our global decline. While our government was bravely scrambling to rescue British citizens from Sudan’s spiraling violence, Braverman callously dismissed the idea of a safe and legal route to the UK for Sudanese asylum seekers.
When the BBC asked Braverman whether the government would set up routes for Sudanese asylum seekers, no different from the program they put in place for Ukrainians last year, Braverman claimed the situation is “very different” because of the “longer-term implications” of the conflict. This is false. For one, the long-term implications of the war in Ukraine were not considered when the Ukrainian asylum program was put in place.
The situation on the ground in Sudan may well be “fast-moving and rapidly changing,” with “a lot of unknowns,” but how is that any different to what happened in Ukraine? The Ukraine conflict arguably has greater long-term potential for spreading violence. We are now well over a year into this war and there is no end in sight. We are, in fact, likely to see a huge new wave of violence as Ukraine prepares to go on the offensive.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine brought warfare to Europe on a scale not seen since the Second World War. Russia is, of course, a nuclear power — as is NATO, which backs Ukraine. The possibilities of miscalculations are enormous. But this is not about geopolitical analysis. The difference between the situation in Sudan and the one in Ukraine is, unfortunately, clearer than that: Ukrainians are white and Sudanese are Black.
Braverman herself has not shied away from making it clear that asylum seekers who come to the UK on small boats — the majority of whom are of a different skin color or religion — are ultimately less welcome, because they “possess values which are at odds with our country” and engage in “heightened levels of criminality.”
In her quest to ensure the British public turns on asylum seekers, Braverman is not afraid to scrape the barrel of public discourse
These are vile and inflammatory remarks that have no basis in fact. Braverman claims that senior police officers across the country have told her asylum seekers who have come by small boats engage in “criminality and prostitution,” yet not a single officer has corroborated these claims or provided any hard data to back them up.
In her quest to ensure the public turns on asylum seekers so that the government can ultimately treat them like hostile adversaries, Braverman is not afraid to scrape the barrel of public discourse.
Ukrainian refugees rightly benefited from a relatively efficient system that welcomed them into safe and warm accommodation. But Sudanese refugees have very few options open to them if they want to seek safety in Europe. Sudan’s immediate neighbors are struggling with their own internal conflicts and instability, meaning that any Sudanese wishing to flee to Europe will be at the mercy of dangerous smuggling gangs, which will be more than happy to exploit their misery.
Denying the possibility of safe routes to the UK is not just deeply callous to Sudanese, but also deeply offensive to British citizens who do not think in racist terms — or who themselves might not be white.
There is an infamous “Family Guy” meme, in which a police officer consults a skin color chart to determine whether someone is a terrorist or not. When we look at the discrepancies between this government’s positions on Sudanese and Ukrainian refugees, it seems those in power in the UK have been consulting the very same chart.
Of course, this should be of no surprise, as Braverman has been on a roll of late, “dreaming” of deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda, describing the uncoordinated, desperate arrival of refugees on small boats as an “invasion,” and rehashing debunked Islamophobic grooming gang stories.
Her desperate appeals to the far right around the Conservative government’s immigration and asylum policies are even going down poorly with some fellow Tory MPs. Jonathan Gullis, the Tory MP for Stoke-on-Trent North, who is usually a happy flag-bearer for callous Tory asylum policy, said in response to Braverman’s “values” comments that they made him feel “uncomfortable.”
They are also not going unnoticed by the global community. Two separate arms of the UN have intervened, with its refugee agency and human rights agency both expressing “concern” at the UK government’s plan to deport all “illegal” asylum seekers.
Earlier in the year, following a wave of legislation that targeted asylum seekers, the right to protest and restricted voting, Human Rights Watch warned that the UK could be listed alongside countries that abuse rather than protect human rights. These high-profile criticisms of UK government policy only solidify the idea that we are increasingly governed by a small-minded, out-of-touch and harsh cadre of politicians, who seem to be successful at very little except accelerating our global retreat.
You would think these interventions would perhaps make Braverman pause and rethink her rhetoric. After all, most politicians are keen observers of their own public brand.
However, within the politics of performative cruelty that seems to be dictating Tory government policy, there is the belief that the cheers only grow louder the more callous you are.
Let us not forget that this inflammatory rhetoric against asylum seekers has a very real and dangerous impact. Last November, an immigration center in Dover was attacked with a firebomb by an Islamophobic extremist. And, in February, anti-refugee protesters clashed with police outside an asylum hotel in Knowsley, injuring officers and setting fire to a police vehicle.
With the coronation of King Charles taking place this weekend, the world’s media will be focused on the UK — and the world will assuredly be asking what kind of country we will be. An occasion for pride and pageantry should also celebrate the democratic journey our nation has been on. We embrace those who seek shelter. We play a positive role in the world. We are not a nation of Suella Bravermans.
And it is as simple as that.
- Muddassar Ahmed is Managing Partner of Unitas Communications, President of The Concordia Forum, and a senior visiting fellow at the German Marshall Fund. Twitter: @MMuddassarAhmed