UK's Rwanda deportation plan: number of asylum seekers due on first flight drops to seven

Three more people will have their cases heard at London's High Court on Tuesday morning

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The first deportation flight from Britain to Rwanda was expected to take off later on Tuesday but with a drastically reduced number of passengers following legal challenges.

Although a last-ditch appeal to stop the flight altogether was rejected by judges on Monday, challenges in individual cases are believed to have reduced the number from about 130 to as few as seven. Three people will have their cases heard at the High Court on Tuesday morning.

A government source said the number of asylum seekers being sent to the East African nation had been reduced by legal challenges relating to modern slavery and human rights claims. One of the charities that brought a legal appeal, Care4Calais, said only seven people still had live tickets.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss would not be drawn on the number on Tuesday but told Sky News that "the really important thing is we establish the principle... that's why it's important we get the flight out today".

Ms Truss challenged critics of the Rwanda policy to come up with an alternative, amid outrage at the planned deportations of people who make perilous journeys across the English Channel in small boats.

A letter to The Times from 25 senior figures in the Church of England, including Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, said the policy was "one that should shame us as a nation".

"Our Christian heritage should inspire us to treat asylum seekers with compassion, fairness and justice, as we have for centuries," the bishops said.

The Court of Appeal in London ruled on Monday that the government’s plans to send migrants who had arrived in Britain through unofficial means to Rwanda on Tuesday could go ahead.

Charities and a trade union representing most Border Force personnel launched an appeal after the High Court on Friday ruled the first planned flight could take place.

Judge Rabinder Singh said the Court of Appeal could not interfere with the High Court judge's “clear and detailed” judgment, and refused permission for further appeal.

Raza Husain, QC, had argued that the judge who refused to block the flight on Friday, Mr Justice Jonathan Swift, had wrongly decided the “balance of convenience”.

A placard left outside the High Court, where the ruling on Rwandan deportation flights took place. AP

But after the urgent hearing on Monday, three senior judges dismissed the appeal, saying there was no error in the decision by Mr Swift.

Lord Justice Rabninder Singh, sitting with Lady Justice Ingrid Simler and Lord Justice Jeremy Stuart-Smith, said Mr Swift had “conducted the balancing exercise properly” and did not err in principle, or in the approach he took.

“He weighed all the factors and reached a conclusion which he was reasonably entitled to reach on the material before him," Mr Singh said.

“This court cannot therefore interfere with that conclusion."

The Home Office has defended the policy and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the government had anticipated “a lot of teething problems” with the policy.

But Mr Johnson said the move was necessary to stop illegal people-smuggling rackets on either side of the English Channel.

Afghan migrants documents dangerous journey across Channel - video

Rory Dunlop, QC, for the department, told the court earlier on Monday that the flight on Tuesday was “important”.

“This is a policy which is intended to deter dangerous and unnecessary journeys, journeys from safe third countries by people who do not need to make that journey to be safe,” Mr Dunlop said.

"They can claim in France or wherever it is. This is a policy that if it works, could save lives as well as disrupting the model of traffickers.

“Even if we are just talking about cancelling a flight tomorrow, there is prejudice to the public interest, to the enactment of decisions that may have that deterrent effect."

Detention Action, one of the claimants in the case, said it was “disappointed but our larger legal challenge against the policy will be heard in July”.

Lou Calvey, a refugee an asylum specialist, said the ruling meant each applicant would have to make an individual injunction

“Those languishing in our asylum system will continue to be threatened with removal to Rwanda, undermining their right to have their case for protection explored by the UK,” Mr Calvey told The National.

“This proposal is barbaric and it will be entirely counter-productive.

"The price of clandestine travel to the UK will rise sharply, and forcing someone to go to Rwanda will result in high remigration, people smuggling and even human trafficking.

“With further and full court action to come to explore the legality of the entire scheme, the costs of this counter-productive cruelty will rise considerably.

“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.”

What is the UK-Rwanda deportation plan?

Britain has agreed on a deal with Rwanda to send some asylum seekers to the country in return for an initial payment of £120 million ($148m), and additional payments based on the number of people deported.

The government says the deportation strategy will undermine people-smuggling networks and stem the flow of migrants risking their lives by crossing the Channel in small boats from Europe.

Human rights groups say the policy is inhumane and will put migrants at risk.

The UN refugee agency has said Rwanda, whose own human rights record is under scrutiny, does not have the capacity to process the claims.

Initially, 31 people were scheduled to be removed on the first flight to Rwanda, but the number has dwindled to eight because of legal challenges.

The government has not provided details of those selected for deportation, but charities say they include people who have fled Afghanistan and Syria.

A separate legal challenge to the government’s deportation plans is under way.

Asylum Aid on Monday asked a High Court judge to temporarily block ministers from enforcing the removal of “any asylum seeker” to Rwanda.

Lawyers for the charity argued the procedure adopted by the government was unfair.

Mr Swift is considering the challenge at a High Court hearing in London.

Lawyers representing Home Secretary Priti Patel say Asylum Aid’s application should be dismissed.

Downing Street has said that it remains the government’s plan for the flight taking asylum seekers to Rwanda to go ahead on Tuesday as planned.

“We certainly intend for there to be a flight tomorrow. That still remains the plan,” Mr Johnson’s official spokesman said.

“There are a number of legal challenges pending, so we need to see the outcome of those before we know the exact position.”

UK announces plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda - video

More than 3,500 people have reached Britain in small boats since the middle of April when the Rwanda scheme was unveiled, government figures show.

As the court hearings were taking place, about 35 migrants arrived at Dover where they were taken away by the British Border Force.

After the hearings, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, heavily criticised the plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.

"We believe that this is all wrong … for so many reasons," Mr Grandi said.

He said he also wanted to end dangerous journeys, but repeated the UNHCR's position that exporting asylum seekers was not the way to go about it.

"The UK says … we do this to save people from dangerous journeys. Let me doubt that a little bit," Mr Grandi said.

"Saving people from dangerous journeys is great, is absolutely great. But is that the right way to do it? I don't think so."

The UN agency has raised concerns about a lack of legal redress in Rwanda and possible discrimination against gay claimants.

Britain, with its advanced structures and large resources, should not be "exporting its responsibility to another country", Mr Grandi said.

He said Rwanda had been "quite good to refugees", having taken in and dealt efficiently with tens of thousands from Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

But Mr Grandi said that its structures and resources were vastly different from those in Britain, and that Rwanda was not equipped to adopt the UK system for refugee status determination.

That "is a completely different ballgame", he said.

Mr Grandi also warned that the UK move provided a poor example that other countries might follow, with disastrous effect.

He said there were many countries in Africa and elsewhere that were far poorer than Britain, but hosting hundreds of thousands and even millions of refugees.

"What am I going to tell them if they say a rich country like the UK, they are sending them abroad, I will do the same. I close my border … and they can go to another country?

"The precedent that this creates is catastrophic."

Updated: June 14, 2022, 7:49 AM
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