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UK court allows first refugee deportation flight to Rwanda

File picture: AP

File picture: AP

Published Jun 13, 2022


Cape Town - The Court of Appeal in London has refused to grant an injunction to block Britain from sending its first flight of asylum seekers to Rwanda, international media reported on Monday.

The number of people scheduled to leave on Tuesday's plane has fallen to less than a dozen, say British authorities.

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

On Monday, London courts began hearing two last-minute legal challenges to block the British government's deportation of asylum seekers to Rwanda, as the number of people on the first removal flight is scheduled to leave for East Africa on Tuesday, Reuters said on Monday.

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

Human rights groups say the policy is inhumane and will put migrants at risk. The UNHCR has said Rwanda, whose own human rights record is under scrutiny, does not have the capacity to process the claims.

This past weekend, Human Rights Watch wrote a public letter to the UK Home Secretary, expressing their grave concerns with the UK government’s plan to expel people seeking asylum in the UK to Rwanda, through irregular routes, in accordance with the Asylum Partnership Arrangement, and to strongly urge the government to rescind the scheme, and not proceed with the first removals scheduled for June 14, 2022.

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Initially, some 37 individuals were scheduled to be removed on the first flight to Rwanda, but the number has dwindled, in the face of legal challenges, to just 11.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is determined to press ahead with the policy, despite the legal challenges and opposition, reportedly including from Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne.

“It’s very important that the criminal gangs, who are putting people's lives at risk in the Channel, understand that their business model is going to be broken and is being broken by this government,” Johnson told LBC Radio.

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The Court of Appeal began hearing arguments from two human rights groups and a trade union on Monday, after a judge refused their request for an injunction blocking the flight taking off.

The judge said on Friday there was a “material public interest in allowing the government to pursue the policy”.

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Raza Hussain, the lawyer for some of the claimants, said the judge had not given enough weight to the concerns of the UNHCR, which had warned that some asylum seekers could be sent back to a country where they would be at risk of persecution, reports Reuters.

Government lawyer Rory Dunlop said Tuesday's flight was important.

“This is a policy which – if it works – could save lives, as well as disrupt the model of traffickers,” he said.

If the claimants won, it would realistically mean no flights could take place before a full trial on the scheme's legality, which would not take place for six weeks, he said.

According to local media reports on Monday, the High Court separately began hearing arguments from Asylum Aid, a refugee charity, which launched a second legal challenge to stop the government flying refugees to Rwanda.

Charlotte Kilroy, a lawyer representing Asylum Aid, said asylum seekers were not given enough time to challenge their deportation, meaning there was a a high risk of unlawful and unsafe decisions.