U.K. Vows Rwanda Deportation Flights Despite Legal Setback

TThe British government pledged Wednesday that it will organize more flights for Rwandan asylum-seekers, following a final court decision to stop the flight of the first aircraft under this contentious policy.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said ”preparation for the next flight begins now” despite legal rulings that none of the migrants earmarked for deportation could be sent to the East African country.

A deal was signed by Britain and Rwanda in April. The U.K. government will allow some migrants to be stowed in Britain or to travel in small boats to Rwanda to file their asylum applications. They will be allowed to stay in Africa if they are successful and not return to Britain.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government says the plan is a legitimate way to protect lives and thwart the criminal gangs that send migrants on risky journeys across the English Channel.

The plan is criticized by human rights groups as it ignores protections for refugees that were established under post-World War II rules. They have called the idea unworkable, inhumane, and a waste of money—Britain paid Rwanda £120 million ($150 million) up front for the deal.

Critics include leaders of the Church of England and—according to British news reports—heir to the throne Prince Charles, who is due to visit Rwanda next week as representative of his mother Queen Elizabeth II.

Last week, U.K. courts declined to ground Tuesday’s first flight. But appeals and legal challenges helped reduce the list of those who could be on board. The European Court of Human Rights—an international tribunal supported by 46 countries including the U.K.—ruled late Tuesday that an Iraqi man due to be on the plane shouldn’t fly, saying he faced “a real risk of irreversible harm.” That allowed the final few migrants on the plane to win reprieve.

U.K. Cabinet minister Therese Coffey said the government was “surprised and disappointed” by the ruling.

“I think the public will be surprised at European judges overruling British judges,” she told Sky News.

In fact, the European court didn’t overrule British decisions, which declined to ground the flight as a whole. Individual cases were dealt with by the ECJ.

The British courts will hear the full legality trial for the U.K.’s government plan by July 31.

Frances Swaine (human rights lawyer) represents one of those who will be sent to Rwanda. She urged government officials to hold off until that happens before arranging any further deportations.

“I would be sitting back and thinking was it worth it, either from a financial or a legal perspective, to organize one of these very expensive flights again when they’ve been so unsuccessful this time around on legal grounds,” she said.

Learn more Britain is sending asylum seekers to Rwanda. This is a dangerous precedent

While the British government is open to refugees coming through approved migration routes, they want to eliminate criminal smuggling groups that use dangerous Channel crossings.

Migrant and refugee organizations point out there are not approved legal pathways for the vast majority of people. This is except for those fleeing Afghanistan, Ukraine and Pakistan. The U.K. has fewer asylum claims than other comparable European countries, such as France or Germany.

Over 28,000 migrants crossed the Channel to the U.K. last year. This is an increase of 8,500 immigrants arriving in 2020 and around 10,000 this year. In November, 27 migrants drowned when one boat capsized.

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