A man who fled Afghanistan just before the Taliban retook Kabul said that the UK government's plans to send asylum seekers to Rwanda felt more like a political announcement than an attempt to tackle human trafficking.
Omar arrived in Calais last August and was uneasy about the distinction between those who come to Britain by legal routes and those who don't, pointing out that for many people fleeing war zones there are no legal routes they can take to claim asylum in the UK.
He fled Afghanistan after escaping an assassination attempt. A human rights journalist who had also worked for the ministry of foreign affairs under the old regime, Omar believed that he would continue to be targeted, so he flew to Turkey, continued to Calais by road and was helped to cross the Channel by people-smugglers. He left his wife and two young sons in Kabul. He is currently waiting for his asylum claim to be processed, staying in a hotel in London with about 120 other asylum seekers, many of whom have been waiting for 14 months for their claims to be assessed.
His brother a former British embassy employee, accepted on to the UK's Afghan resettlement programme last August, but Omar had fled Afghanistan earlier and there was no legal route for him to come to the UK to seek sanctuary. In Afghanistan, the two faced similar threats, but only one was given access to the resettlement scheme.
The system needs to be reformed, but this is not the answer. He said that this was a very political announcement.
He didn't feel that the announcement was primarily about saving lives or combating the people-smuggling gangs. There are lots of ways to stop people from dying in boats. They could make a more flexible visa regime for people fleeing Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. I had no other alternative except to take a boat. There was no way for me to come here legally.
How will the government distinguish between people who are economic migrants and those who are genuine asylum seekers? The process is taking more than a year at the moment. He suggested that it would be a better solution to divert the money that the government is spending on new facilities in Rwanda to hire more staff in the UK to work on clearing the current backlog of asylum cases and moving people out of hotels. Or they could set up a big processing campus for them here, to fast-track the process there. The smugglers will tell people that the rules won't apply to them, but they will tell them that everything will be fine. They are going to charge people between 4,000 and 10,000 to cross. Omar speaks fluent English and has some family in the UK, so it seemed the obvious place to come. He dismissed the implication that because he is a young man, he should be classified as an economic migrant rather than a refugee.
People gamble their lives when they cross the Channel, and you are prepared to sacrifice everything for the chance to live in a peaceful society in the UK. It wasn't something I did for fun, but I came to this country to save my life.