Rwanda: First deportation flight stopped at last minute after legal offers

The first deportation flight to Rwanda was halted at the last minute after a barrage of legal offers

The flight was grounded after intervention by the European Court of Human Rights (Image: Getty)

Plans to deport the first asylum seekers to Rwanda ended in farce after judges pardoned the last handful on the runway on the day 400 more, including women and children, crossed the English Channel to Britain.

The Boeing 767-300 – chartered to taxpayers at a cost of £500,000 – has been grounded at RAF Boscombe Down, Wiltshire, after a frantic series of last-minute legal challenges.

Secretary of State Liz Truss had previously said, “What’s important is that we establish the principle, we establish deterrence to deter trafficking gangs.”

The government says the £120m deal for Rwanda to process UK asylum claims from people who arrive illegally will end crossings from France and destroy the people smugglers’ business model.

But even as deportees from Iran, Iraq, Albania and Vietnam were brought to the jet yesterday, hundreds made the perilous journey in small boats.

They were supported ashore by RNLI crews and Border Force cutters Vigilant and Hurricane. Officers escorted toddlers and babies to safety, while some relieved migrants waved to onlookers as they headed towards the port. Last November, 27 people drowned off the coast of Calais – including three children and seven women, one of whom was pregnant.

More crossings are likely in warmer weather this week, while Home Office figures suggest they have increased since Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the deal with Rwanda on April 14.

AMESBURY, WILTSHIRE - JUNE 14: The Rwanda deportation flight EC-LZO Boeing 767 grounded at Boscombe Down Air Base, on June 14, 2022 in Boscombe Down. The flight bringing asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda was grounded at the last minute following intervention by the European Court of Human Rights. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Grounded Rwanda deportation flight EC-LZO Boeing 767 at Boscombe Down Air Base (Image: Getty)

More than 4,000 people have since crossed the 21-mile Strait of Dover.

The government hoped 31 people who were served with deportation papers on Friday would be on the flight. But the judges dismissed charges against 24 of them after actions by unions and charities.

Another man was allowed to stay after the European Court of Human Rights intervened yesterday.

He is believed to be a 54-year-old from Iraq who arrived in the UK by boat in May, with a doctor saying he may have had a history of torture.

The decision led to a grace period for the final six minutes later. The Home Office finally confirmed that the flight had been canceled just after 10 p.m. after the runway lights were switched off.

Migrant Channel Crossing Incidents

About 400 asylum seekers made the crossing on the day the first flight was stopped (Image: PA)

Priti Patel said she was disappointed the flight couldn’t depart but said she wouldn’t let anything stop her from doing the right thing, adding: “Our legal team is reviewing every decision that was made on this flight and preparations for the next flight are now beginning.’

The Home Secretary added: “I have always said that this policy will not be easy to implement and I am disappointed that legal challenges and last minute demands have resulted in today’s flight not being able to depart.

“It is very surprising that, despite repeated previous successes, the European Court of Human Rights has intervened in our domestic courts.

“These repeated legal obstacles are similar to those we experience with other relocation flights, and many of those removed from this flight will be relocated to the next.”

AMESBURY, WILTSHIRE - JUNE 14: A full Strawberry Supermoon is seen from Boscombe Down Air Base on June 14, 2022 in Boscombe Down. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

The flight was scrapped with just minutes left (Picture: Getty)

Britain’s Supreme Court on Monday rejected an offer to halt the flight after Ms Patel gave assurances those on board would return if a judicial review in July found the policy illegal.

Mr Johnson had also defended the controversial policy, which was said to have been branded “shameful of the UK” by 25 Church of England bishops and “appalling” by the Prince of Wales. “We will in no way be put off or embarrassed by some of the criticisms, some of them from somewhat unexpected quarters,” he said. “We will go ahead and deliver.”

However, Mr Johnson was forced to admit that the system, which was due to be tested in the High Court in July, could also be illegal under the European Convention on Human Rights amid fears of abuses in the east African country.

“Will it be necessary to change some laws to help us on our way?” he told Sky News. ‘That can very well be.’ The Prime Minister said the scheme was facing “massive attacks, not least from lawyers” and told Cabinet they “supported the work of criminal gangs”.

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But the Bar Council and Law Society said in a joint statement: “It is misleading and dangerous for the Prime Minister to suggest to lawyers who bring forward such legal challenges to do anything but do their jobs and uphold the law.”

Rwanda’s government insisted it was ready to take in deported refugees from around the world. “We don’t see life in Rwanda as a punishment,” spokeswoman Yolanda Makolo said at a news conference in the capital Kigali, where refugees were to be housed at Hope Hostel.

However, a spokesman for the charity Médecins Sans Frontières stressed: “There is absolutely no evidence that this will deter people from seeking refuge in the UK.”

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Justin Scacco

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