UK cancels first flight to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda


A soldier carries a child from a group believed to be migrants is brought to Dover, England by Border Force following an incident on a small boat in the English Channel on Tuesday June 14 2022. (Andrew Matthews/PA via AP)


Britain canceled a flight due to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda on Tuesday night after the European Court of Human Rights intervened, saying the plan carried “a real risk of irreversible harm”.

The decision to call off the flight ended three days of frenzied legal challenges by immigrant rights lawyers who launched a flurry of case-by-case appeals aimed at blocking the deportation of all those listed on the government list.

British government officials had said earlier in the day that the plane would take off regardless of the number of people on board. But after the calls, no one stayed. British media reported that the number of potential deportees was over 30 on Friday.

After the flight was cancelled, Home Secretary Priti Patel said she was disappointed but would not be ‘deterred from doing the right thing’. She added: “Our legal team is reviewing every decision made on this flight and preparation for the next flight is starting now.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson had adamantly defended the British plan, arguing it was a legitimate way to protect lives and thwart criminal gangs who smuggle migrants across the English Channel in small boats. In recent years, Britain has seen an illegal influx of migrants from countries such as Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Sudan, Iraq and Yemen.

Johnson announced a deal with Rwanda in April in which people who enter Britain illegally will be deported to the East African country. In return for their acceptance, Rwanda will receive millions of pounds (dollars) in development aid. The deportees will be allowed to seek asylum in Rwanda, not in Britain.

Opponents have argued that it is illegal and inhumane to send people thousands of miles to a country they don’t want to live in. Church of England leaders have joined the opposition, calling the government’s policy “immoral”. Prince Charles was among the opponents, according to British dispatches.

Activists have denounced the policy as an attack on refugee rights that most countries have recognized since the end of World War II.

Refugee Council chief executive Enver Solomon said the British government’s threat of deportation would not be a deterrent to those seeking safety in the UK.

“The government must immediately rethink by having a mature conversation with France and (the European Union) about responsibility sharing and seek to make an orderly, humane and fair asylum system work,” Solomon said.

The UN refugee agency has condemned the plan, fearing other countries will follow suit as war, repression and natural disasters force growing numbers of people from their homes.

Politicians in Denmark and Austria are considering similar proposals. Australia has operated an asylum processing center in the Pacific island nation of Nauru since 2012.

“Globally, this shameless punitive deal further condones the gutting of the right to seek asylum in rich countries,” said Maurizio Albahari, a migration expert at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, describing British politics.

Several million people around the world have been displaced over the past two decades, straining the international consensus on refugees. The world had more than 26 million refugees as of the middle of last year, more than double the number two decades ago, according to the UN refugee agency. Millions more left their homes voluntarily, in search of economic opportunities in developed countries.

In Britain, these pressures have led to an increase in the number of people crossing the English Channel in leaky inflatable boats, sometimes with disastrous consequences. Last November, 27 people died when their boat sank in waters between France and England.

Johnson, struggling for his political life amid worries about his leadership and ethics, responded by promising to stop such risky trips.

While Rwanda was the scene of a genocide that killed hundreds of thousands of people in 1994, the country has built a reputation for stability and economic progress since then, says the British government. Critics say stability comes at the cost of political repression.

Filippo Grandi, the UN high commissioner for refugees, called the policy “completely wrong”.

If the UK government is really interested in protecting lives, it should work with other countries to target smugglers and provide safe routes for asylum seekers, not just send migrants back to other countries, Grandi said. .

“The precedent this sets is catastrophic for a concept that needs to be shared, like asylum,” Grandi said Monday.

The Archbishop of Canterbury and 24 other Church of England bishops have joined the chorus of voices calling on the government to reconsider an ‘immoral policy which brings shame to Britain’.

“Our Christian heritage should inspire us to treat asylum seekers with compassion, fairness and justice, as we have done for centuries,” the bishops wrote in a letter to The Times of London.

The UK Supreme Court declined to hear a final appeal on Tuesday, a day after two lower courts refused to block evictions. Legal challenges continued, however, with lawyers appealing on a case-by-case basis on behalf of individual migrants.

Many migrants prefer Britain as a destination for reasons of language or family ties, or because it is considered an open economy with more opportunities than other European nations.

When Britain was a member of the European Union, it was part of a system that required refugees to seek asylum in the first safe country they entered. Those who reached Britain could be sent back to the EU countries from which they travelled. Britain lost that option when it pulled out of the EU two years ago.

Since then, the British and French governments have worked to stop the travel, with much contention and little success. More than 28,000 migrants entered Britain in small boats last year, up from 8,500 in 2020.

Nando Sigona, a migration expert at the University of Birmingham, said big principles are at stake if the Rwandan policy is sustained.

“How can we establish any moral elevation where we operate in other countries if we are not signatories to the protection of those fleeing war and persecution? asked Sigona.


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