The UN’s refugee agency has expressed concern that other European countries could follow the UK’s lead in trying to send migrants abroad.
Britain last month announced plans to send potentially thousands of migrants who arrive in on small boats and hidden in lorries to Rwanda, with no prospect of a return to the UK.
The policy — accompanied by an initial £120 million ($147.9m) payment to the Central African nation — has yet to start, with the UK government braced for a series of challenges by lawyers, migrant and rights groups.
Larry Bottinick, the UN Refugee Agency’s acting representative to Britain, expressed fears that other European countries could follow suit.
“We are worried that they [the UK] are inviting all their European counterparts to do the same,” he told the Observer newspaper.
“I can understand from their perspective why they would do that — it would give such deals more perceived legitimacy if others do the same.”
Lawyers for an Iranian migrant launched legal action last week to prevent him from being sent to Rwanda after arriving in the UK.
The man, who is believed to have arrived in the UK in the back of a lorry, feared he was at risk of being sent to Rwanda but had not been screened by the authorities.
Iranians are the largest group to try to reach the UK in small boats, government figures show. They also make up the largest number by nationality to claim asylum in the UK every year since 2016, according to the UN.
“It's very likely he will be the only Iranian in the country,” his lawyer Stuart Luke told The National. He said that they received no response from the authorities when they asked if he could be sent to Rwanda. "We don't know what criterai is going to be applied," he said.
Days after Mr Luke filed his claim, officials said that he would not be deported.
The claim by Mr Luke is one of the first in a series of anticipated legal challenges against the policy that opposition MPs have branded “unworkable”.
Migrant charities and a union representing staff who would administer the policy started their action late last month. Lawyers for the groups claimed that the removal of people from the UK would be unlawful.
Clare Moseley, Founder of Care4Calais, one of the groups behind the case, said: “The government’s plan to send refugees to Rwanda is a threat to the lives of refugees, the international reputation of the UK and the finances of British people.”
The announcement of the plan has not stopped migrants landing in the UK in small boats, with hundreds arriving this week, bringing the total to more than 7,000 this year.
The UK’s Home Office said the plan would “overhaul our broken asylum system” that was costing £1.5 billion a year.
“It means those arriving dangerously, illegally or unnecessarily can be relocated to have their asylum claims considered and, if recognised as refugees, build their lives there,” a spokesperson said.