Court refuses to halt UK deportation plan to Rwanda for migrants

Court refuses to halt UK deportation plan to Rwanda for migrants
A British government plan to deport asylum-seekers to Rwanda is set to go ahead after an appeals court on Monday rejected arguments that the flights would undermine the “basic dignity” of people escaping war and oppression.

A three-judge panel at the Court of Appeal in London refused an appeal filed by immigration rights advocates and public employee unions that sought to block the deportation flights temporarily while the court considered whether the government’s policy was legal. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office said the first deportation flight will go ahead as scheduled on Tuesday. Justice Rabinder Singh, writing for the panel, said a lower court judge had properly balanced the issues when he decided not to issue a temporary injunction Friday, and as a result the appellate court couldn’t overturn that decision. Under U.K. law, a court must find that there is strong evidence a government policy is illegal before it can issue such an injunction.

The number of people affected Tuesday has been whittled down steadily. The charity, Care4Calais, said all but eight of the 31 migrants originally told they would be on the first flight to Rwanda have had their tickets canceled.

Further legal challenges are under way. A second case before the High Court on Monday is also seeking an urgent injunction to stop the government flight to Rwanda. Raza Husain, one of the lawyers for the migrants, had argued that the government’s plan involved the forced removal of asylum-seekers to a country they don’t want to travel to as part of a policy intended to deter others from trying to enter Britain.

“This amounts, on any view, to a serious interference with basic dignity … where those individuals have already suffered significant trauma and have mental health issues,” he said in the court filings. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative government in April announced plans to send some undocumented migrants to Rwanda. Migrants deported under the program would be forced to apply for asylum in Rwanda, not the U.K. Britain paid Rwanda 120 million pounds ($158 million) up front and will make additional payments based on the number of people deported.

The program is aimed at discouraging migrants from risking their lives by crossing the English Channel in small boats after a surge in such journeys in the past two years. But human rights groups say the policy is illegal, inhumane and will only magnify the risks for migrants.

Johnson defended the policy.

“I always said that it will begin with a lot of teething problems and you will have a lot of legal action against it and they will try and delay it – that’s inevitable,″ he said during a visit to a farm. He also defended the government’s actions against criticism, including some reportedly over the weekend by Prince Charles. The heir to the British throne sparked a political backlash amid reports that he had privately described the Rwandan policy as “appalling.”

Charles’ Clarence House office declined to comment on the matter, while insisting the Prince of Wales was politically neutral.

When asked about Charles on Monday, Johnson brushed the question aside. “I think that most people can see that the criminal gangs ... need to be stopped,″ he said. “That model needs to be frustrated.″

The head of the U.N. refugee agency lashed out after the British court decision, using his strongest words yet in public about the U.K.-Rwanda plan. He described it as "all wrong ... for so many different reasons.''

Filippo Grandi, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, told reporters in Geneva that Britain’s plan sent a message to other countries that they could do the same. “The precedent that this creates is catastrophic for a concept that needs to be shared, like asylum,” he said.

“Do I feel revulsion for those that are profiting from this? Of course, I do. They’re criminals. They should be pursued, tried and jailed,” he said. “But from this situation, to say now ‘we don’t take people anymore, go back to Rwanda’ is not right.”
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