First deportation flight to Rwanda postponed after legal challenge

Rwanda policy

The policy has been legally challenged by a migrant charity (Image: AP)

The government was forced to postpone its first deportation flights to Rwanda after activists launched a legal campaign against the controversial policy.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said last weekend that 50 asylum seekers had already been told they were to be flown to the east African nation within two weeks, i.e. at the end of May, but expected opposition to the move.

Activists said they received word Wednesday night that flights to Rwanda will not resume until at least June 6.

It comes as an inquiry is launched into the deal’s handling, amid allegations of bypassing Parliament.

Clare Moseley, founder of refugee charity Care4Calais, said she was “relieved” by the decision to fly.

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

“By last night (the government) had indicated that flights could go ahead next week.”

The government’s plan to send asylum seekers 4,000 miles away was called “shamefully cruel” by charities and politicians across the board when it was first announced.

DOVER ENGLAND - MAY 3: Border Force Speedwell brought 45 migrants to the docks at Dover this morning. The migrants are attempting to cross the Channel to Britain before settling law that they will be shipped to Rwanda in Dover, Britain, on May 3. 2022. Border Force and the military bring them ashore. (Photo by Stuart Brock/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Campaigners have criticized the ‘shamefully cruel’ policy (Picture: Getty)

Questions have also been raised about the huge cost of flying people into the country, with a Tory MP saying it is cheaper to put people at the Ritz.

Ms Patel stuck by the guideline on Wednesday and said work was being done “right now” to introduce it as part of plans to contain Channel Crossings.

She said she discussed the progress of the deal at a meeting with Rwandan Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta.

The couple traveled to Geneva on Thursday for meetings with the UN refugee agency UNHCR and other bodies.

The home secretary said she was “pushing forward the implementation of this world-leading plan, which embodies the international approach needed to tackle an international challenge like the migration crisis”.

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

Rwanda's Foreign Secretary Vincent Biruta (left) and Britain's Home Secretary Priti Patel (right) speak during an interview with the Associated Press Thursday, May 19, 2022 at the United Nations European Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. (Martial Trezzini/Keystone via AP)

Rwandan Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta meets Home Secretary Priti Patel (Image: AP)

Crossings resumed on Thursday amid inclement weather at sea after none were recorded on Wednesday.

But activists like Care4Calais say they have “serious concerns” about the policy and plan to launch a judicial review.

Ms Moseley said she was still working to reach out to migrants from the Channel who were being held 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 fled atrocious horrors in their home countries and endured long journeys of forced labour, torture and exploitation to reach safety here.

“But now they face a terrible ordeal of further deportation around the world to a country where they will never feel safe.”

A prospective engineer from Sudan, who is among the Channel migrants who fly to Rwanda when and when flights begin, said he would rather kill himself in custody than be turned away.

He said: “I will kill myself before I am deported if the UK as a government and as a country cannot uphold human rights, then who can?”

Rwanda's Foreign Secretary Vincent Biruta (left) and Britain's Home Secretary Priti Patel (right) speak during an interview with the Associated Press Thursday, May 19, 2022 at the United Nations European Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. (Martial Trezzini/Keystone via AP)

Priti Patel remains committed to politics despite widespread criticism (Image: AP)

According to the Home Office, Mr Biruta and Ms Patel met with representatives including the High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi and the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The department said the couple reaffirmed their “commitment to working with UN agencies; on the deportation plan and “emphasized” that applications are processed in accordance with the UN Refugee Convention.

In an interview with the Associated Press ahead of the meeting with officials, Mr Biruta admitted it was “okay for them to be concerned,” adding that the discussion was aimed at “getting them on board” to come along the two countries to work together.

But afterwards, Mr Grandi said on Twitter he reiterated his concerns about the deal during the meeting, adding: “Shifting asylum responsibilities is not the solution.”

He said UNHCR would “continue to propose concrete solutions that respect international law”.

In a later statement, Mr Biruta said: “While UNHCR is entitled to express its views on this partnership, it has no reason to doubt our motivations or our ability to offer sanctuary and opportunities to those who seek it – how.” we already do 130,000 refugees.

“We welcome the opportunity to discuss this partnership with colleagues at UNHCR to address their concerns and improve their understanding of our proposals.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “Our new world-leading migration partnership with Rwanda will result in those making dangerous, illegal or unnecessary journeys to the UK being relocated to Rwanda and if they are recognized as refugees, they will be assisted in the build-up of a new life supports there.

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

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Justin Scacco

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