UK's first deportation flight to Rwanda allowed

'Refugees may not have won in court but there’s still three days to stop this inhuman plan,' activist says

Demonstrators protest outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London, while a legal case is heard over halting a planned deportation of asylum seekers from Britain to Rwanda. Reuters
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A deportation flight carrying dozens of asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda will take off next week after a High Court ruling on Friday.

Up to 130 people from countries such as Afghanistan, Syria and Sudan will be sent to Kigali under the Home Office’s new immigration policy.

The court heard 31 people were due on the first flight on Tuesday, with the Home Office planning to schedule more this year.

Some of those due to be given a one-way ticket to the East African nation as part of Home Secretary Priti Patel’s bid to curb perilous Channel crossings, as well as campaign groups and a union, had asked judges to block the flight.

The judge ruled against the claim and said: “I do not consider that the balance of convivence favours the grant of the generic relief.”

Prince Charles has privately described the policy to send migrants to Rwanda as “appalling”, The Times reported. Generally, the royal family avoid commenting on political issues.

Campaigners expressed disappointment that the move to block the flight had failed at the first hurdle.

“Refugees may not have won in court today but there’s still three days to stop this inhuman plan," Karen Doyle, national organiser at Movement for Justice, a civil and immigrant rights movement, tells The National.

"We will continue to call on Rwanda to drop this deal, refuse to aid the UK trafficking in refugees. We will continue to fight alongside those detained and at risk of the Rwanda flight.

"We continue to call on anyone who is a part of this plan to withdraw, refuse and resist."

A judicial review is still expected to go ahead and the applicants in court were given permission to appeal.

“The judgment today is devastating to those desperately trying to reconnect with family, escape war and torture and rebuild their lives in safety in the UK,” Lou Calvey, a refugee and asylum specialist, told The National.

“The human cost of our government’s unwillingness to meaningfully explore the solutions that have been presented to them is extraordinary and unforgivable.

“The only way to end the abhorrent practice of people smuggling and address people risking their lives to reach safety on our shores is for our government to provide safe routes.

"You do not solve people smuggling by becoming a human trafficker.”

UK charities Care4Calais and Detention Action, along with a trade union representing UK Border Force personnel, launched a legal bid to stop the first scheduled removals flight on June 14.

The case also challenged the legality of the Home Office’s latest immigration policy in which asylum seekers who arrive to the UK by “irregular means” will be deported to Rwanda while they await the processing of their claims.

They argued that the plan breaches asylum seekers' human rights and say the government cannot justify its claim that Rwanda is a safe destination.

The final hearing on the legality of the policy will be heard in July.

“The fight is far from over," said Sonya Sceats, chief executive of the charity Freedom From Torture.

"Caring people across Britain are incensed that this government wants to send people seeking safety halfway across the world and are taking action."

“The public have sent over 15,000 letters to airlines suspected of involvement in removals calling on them to rule themselves out, and protests are being planned up and down the country.”

Enver Soloman, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: “We fear this is a threat to many more young people who are being wrongly held in detention, putting them at great risk.

“These are vulnerable people and scared children who are alone, many of whom have undertaken perilous journeys to come to the UK in hope of safety.

"No one risks their own, or family's, life unless they are running from dangers more acute than they face on these journeys.”

Ms Patel, the Home Secretary, welcomed the ruling, saying the Government will "now continue to deliver on progressing our world-leading Migration Partnership".

She said: "People will continue to try and prevent their relocation through legal challenges and last-minute claims, but we will not be deterred in breaking the deadly people smuggling trade and ultimately saving lives."

Warnings in court

Earlier in the day, the UN refugee agency accused Britain of dishonesty by claiming the UNHCR had endorsed its plans to offshore asylum applications to Rwanda.

The lawyer for the UNHCR, which mounted a last-minute intervention in the case to block the Home Office's plans, told the court the agency “in no way endorses the UK-Rwandan arrangement”.

The High Court also heard that the plan was “not safe”.

Raza Husain QC, for the claimants, told the High Court: “The system is not safe. It is not that it is not safe after July, it is just not safe.

“You may be arbitrarily denied access to it. If you do get into it, there are concerns about the impartiality of the decision-making.”

He continued: “The evidence is that if you are not from a neighbouring country, then there are high levels of rejection.”

Mr Husain said this included asylum seekers from Syria, who are largely accepted by the UK system.

“The procedure is simply unsafe,” he added.

Calling for an evidence-based assessment for the policy, “not an aspirational basis, or hopes”, Mr Husain said: “The secretary of state’s conclusion as to the safety of Rwanda was irrational."

In written submissions, Home Office lawyers urged the court to reject the application, arguing that it “fails at the first stage”, and added: “The claimants have not identified a serious issue to be tried, still less the strong case they allege for the grant of relief at trial.”

In the court documents, Rory Dunlop QC and Mathew Gullick QC, for the department, said: “The application for interim relief should be dismissed. In the alternative, any order for interim relief should be limited.”

They said there was a “strong public interest in permitting these removals to proceed as scheduled” and a “clear public interest in deterring the making of dangerous journeys and the activities of criminal smugglers”.

Updated: June 10, 2022, 11:20 PM