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British proposals to forcibly deport asylum seekers to Rwanda have raised fierce opposition from across the political spectrum in the UK and internationally. These proposals differ from official practices of deportation as they have developed in liberal democracies since the 1970s. There are certainly some international parallels, such as Australia’s ‘Pacific Solution’ of ‘offshoring’ asylum, which is often cited as an inspiration. Yet a much clearer precedent involving the forcible movement of people to countries where they have no personal or legal connection existed for many years in the British Empire. Colonial policies of forcible removal, relocation, displacement, and dispersal around the Empire are well established. We draw attention to these longer histories before investigating more recent cases of the dispersal of refugees within the British Empire in the twentieth century. In many cases, such forced dispersal concerned those who had been recognised as refugees who were interned and subsequently moved elsewhere in the Empire. Such policies were designed to prevent the arrival of refugees in the UK. These policies have provided inspiration for asylum practices in some postcolonial states—Israel is reported to have reached an agreement with Uganda and Rwanda to deport asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea, although these are not public. In this paper, we highlight how these colonial practices of forcible displacement of individuals inform the current agreement between the UK and Rwanda.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date



12 (8)