UK-Rwanda deportation flights on hold as migrant threatens suicide

Channel migrant among first destined for Rwanda has grave fears of being deported to the East African nation

A group of people thought to be migrants walk along the beach after being brought to Dungeness in Kent on a RNLI Lifeboat. PA
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The UK government has been forced to delay its first deportation flights to Rwanda after campaigners lodged a legal campaign against the controversial policy.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said last weekend that 50 asylum seekers have already been told they are due to be flown to the East African nation within two weeks, which would be the end of May, but anticipated opposition to the move. The government believes the policy will help cut the number of migrants who risk their lives in small boats crossing the English Channel from France.

Campaigners said they received notice on Wednesday evening that the Rwanda flights will now not take place until at least June 6.

The move comes as a migrant from Sudan who spent six years trying to get to Britain said he had grave fears about being sent to Rwanda as part of the UK government’s new asylum policy, largely because of its reputation for human rights.

The trainee engineer, who is among the first Channel migrants bound for Rwanda if and when flights commence, told the PA news agency: “I will kill myself before I get deported, if the UK as a government and a country cannot uphold human rights, who will?”

Speaking through an Arabic interpreter from the Brook House detention centre in West Sussex, the man, who wanted to be known only as Ali, described how he fled war-torn Sudan six years ago, spending two years in detention in Libya where he said he was tortured, before heading up through continental Europe to Calais, where he waited for seven months before crossing the Channel to the UK two weeks ago.

He said his family sold their home to pay people smugglers, but had no idea of the Rwanda asylum policy.

Ali said: “I was trying to get here for six years to rebuild my life.

“Upon receiving the news from the Home Office, once I realised I was being moved to Rwanda, I wrote down my will and asked my solicitor to send my goodbye letter and my will to my mother and my wife.

“I will kill himself before I go to Rwanda.”

Home Secretary Priti Patel said on Wednesday that work was taking place “right now” to roll out the deportation policy as part of plans to curb Channel crossings, and discussed progress on the agreement in a meeting with Rwandan foreign minister Vincent Biruta.

Ms Patel said she was “pushing ahead with delivering this world-leading plan which epitomises the kind of international approach that is required to tackle an international challenge like the migration crisis”.

Since the start of this year 8,697 people have reached the UK after navigating busy shipping lanes from France in small boats, according to analysis of government data by the PA news agency.

But campaigners including refugee charity Care4Calais say they have “serious concerns” about the policy and plan to bring a judicial review.

Clare Moseley, founder of Care4Calais, said she was “relieved” at the decision to delay the deportation flights.

She said: “This was a direct response to our second letter sent on Tuesday as part of our legal action against the Rwanda plan.

“Up until last night [the government] had been indicating that flights could take place next week.”

UK announces plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda

UK announces plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda

Ms Moseley said they are still working to get hold of Channel migrants detained in Home Office facilities awaiting deportation.

She said: “So far we have found six of these people and their stories are heartbreaking, people who have escaped from cruel horrors in their home countries and suffered forced labour, torture and exploitation on long journeys to reach safety here.

“Yet now they are facing a terrifying ordeal of further deportation across the globe to a country where they will never feel safe.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “Our new, world-leading migration partnership with Rwanda will see those who make dangerous, illegal or unnecessary journeys to the UK relocated to Rwanda and, if recognised as refugees, they will be supported to build a new life there.

“We are putting this plan into action and have started to notify those who are in scope to be relocated, with the first flights expected to take place in the coming months.”

Updated: May 19, 2022, 11:34 AM