British celebrities have urged Commonwealth leaders in Rwanda to oppose the UK’s plan to deport refugees to the country, saying it shows a “colonial view” of Africa as a “dumping ground”.

It comes as a summit of Commonwealth prime ministers and presidents is under way in Kigali, the first time the gathering has been held since 2018.

In an open letter organised by Together With Refugees, the authors, including many with an African heritage, said: “The Commonwealth cannot – must not – stay silent on this offensive scheme. Your voices would be a crucial and powerful force to help bring it to an end.”

The letter – signed by more than 20 high-profile celebrities including Olivia Colman, David Harewood, Robert Rinder, Emma Thompson, Sophie Okonedo, Lemn Sissay and Benjamin Zephaniah – continued: “The prospect of being transported to Rwanda, and African countries like it, is enough to put off even the most desperate people fleeing war and persecution from coming to the UK.

“This tells us much about the British government’s colonial and insulting view of Africa, as a place that is no better than a dumping ground for things – in this case people – it considers a problem.”

The government deportation policy announced in April has already come under fire from Prince Charles who called the policy “appalling”, only days before the first flight estimated to cost £500,000 was stopped after a last-minute injunction from the European court of human rights.

The policy, which the government argues will help reduce the numbers of people arriving to the UK in boats across the Channel, has come under fire from campaigners for human rights who call the policy “inhumane” and “appalling”.

A 26-year-old Iraqi Kurdish man previously told the Guardian: “We are all feeling so bad that they are sending us by force to Rwanda. It is too much to think about. My message to anyone who will listen is please stop the plane.”

The landlocked country of 12 million people, is led by the authoritarian president Paul Kagame who has come under increased scrutiny in recent years over accusations of orchestrated kidnappings and murdering political opponents, both of which he denies.

The legality of the policy will be tested in a full court hearing next month.

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Speaking from Kigali on Friday, Boris Johnson said Ukrainian refugees face being sent to Rwanda if they travel to the UK without authorisation, after the prime minister said in April it was “simply not going to happen”.

The former Olympian, England footballer and signatory Anita Asante said, as someone of Ghanaian heritage, she is “disturbed” by the UK’s view of sending refugees to Rwanda as a deterrent. She said: “It’s an insult to Africa. And shames Britain.”

Source: The Guardian