UK judge rejects bid to ban Rwanda deportation flight

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LONDON – A British judge on Friday rejected an offer to ground a flight due to take more than 30 asylum seekers on a one-way trip to Rwanda next week, but allowed migrants to appeal at the last minute.

The flight departing on Tuesday is the first under a controversial deal between the UK and the East African country. Britain plans to send some migrants who arrive in the UK as stowaways or in small boats to Rwanda, where their asylum claims will be processed. If successful, they will stay in the African country. Human rights groups called the idea unworkable and inhumane.

Judge Jonathan Swift on Friday rejected a request by a group of asylum seekers, backed by a union and refugee groups, for an injunction prohibiting the flight. But he said an appeal could be heard on Monday and that a full legal challenge to the British government’s new deportation policy from Rwanda must take place before the end of July.

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Britain’s immigration minister, Home Secretary Priti Patel, welcomed the decision. Patel said the government “would not be discouraged” by further challenges.

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said he was disappointed and described the situation as “extremely worrying”.

At the High Court in London, government lawyer Mathew Gullick said 37 people were due to be on Tuesday’s flight, but six had their deportation orders overturned. He said the government still intended to operate the flight, as well as future ones.

The British government has not provided details of those selected, but refugee groups say the group includes people fleeing Syria and Afghanistan who arrived in Britain across the English Channel. The UK paid Rwanda 120 million pounds ($158 million) upfront for the plan.

Claimants’ lawyer Raza Husain said “the system is not safe” and UN officials say the UK plan violates the International Refugee Convention.

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Laura Dubinsky, a lawyer representing the UN refugee agency, said refugees sent to Rwanda under the scheme risked suffering “serious and irreparable harm”. She said the agency had “serious concerns about Rwanda’s ability” to handle the arrivals.

Rwanda is Africa’s most densely populated country and already hosts tens of thousands of refugees. Competition for land and resources contributed to decades of ethnic and political tensions that culminated in the 1994 Rwandan genocide in which more than 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and the moderate Hutus who tried to protect them were killed.

President Paul Kagame’s government has made significant economic progress since the genocide, but critics say it has come at the cost of political repression. Obedience to authorities is widely enforced, one of the reasons why Rwandan towns and villages are clean and among the most orderly in Africa. There is little political opposition.

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Patel said that “Rwanda is a safe country and has already been recognized for providing safe haven for refugees”.

“We will continue preparations for the first flight to Rwanda alongside the series of other measures to reduce small boat crossings,” she said.

The British government says it welcomes refugees who arrive through approved immigration channels, but wants to bankrupt criminal smuggling gangs operating dangerous Channel crossings.

“We cannot allow people traffickers to put lives at risk and our world-leading partnership will help break the business model of these ruthless criminals,” Johnson said on Twitter.

More than 28,000 migrants entered the UK across the Channel last year, up from 8,500 in 2020. Dozens died, including 27 people in November when a single boat capsized.

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