The first flight to take asylum seekers from the United Kingdom to Rwanda can go ahead next week, the High Court in London ruled after a judge dismissed attempts to win an injunction to stop the deportation to the East African nation.
Charities and a trade union had launched a legal challenge against the British government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, saying it was unsafe, but the court ruled on Friday that the first flight could take place as scheduled next week.
Judge Jonathan Swift refused the request for an injunction to stop the first flight planned for Tuesday.
“There is a material public interest in the Home Secretary [Priti Patel] being able to implement immigration decisions,” Swift said.
The court also granted permission for human rights group to appeal the decision.
International human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson told Al Jazeera that the UK had an international legal obligation to determine whether the people facing deportation were genuine asylum seekers fleeing persecution.
Sending asylum seekers to Rwanda was considered “unethical and unchristian” by many, Robertson said from London, adding that the legal challenge is far from over.
“It’s a very controversial policy and it’s wrong that it should be decided in a day. It’s going to need, and I suspect will receive, a good deal more consideration from the courts” he said.
Up to 130 asylum seekers have been notified they could be sent to Rwanda and lawyers for almost 100 had submitted legal challenges asking to stay in the UK.
UN officials and refugee groups have criticised the plan as unworkable and inhumane, saying those facing being sent to Rwanda include people fleeing Syria and Afghanistan who arrived in the UK across the English Channel on small boats.
‘Serious, irreparable harm’
As the hearing opened at the High Court in London, government lawyer Mathew Gullick said 37 people had been due to be on board Tuesday’s flight to Rwanda, but that six had had their deportation orders cancelled. He said the government still intended to operate the flight, as well as future ones.
On arrival in Rwanda, the asylum seekers’ claims will be processed, and if successful, they will stay in the African country.
UN officials say the deportation violates the international Refugee Convention and human rights groups have called the deal – for which the UK has paid Rwanda $158m upfront – unworkable, inhumane and a waste of British taxpayers’ money.
Laura Dubinsky, a lawyer representing the UN refugee agency, said refugees sent to Rwanda under the programme were at risk of “serious, irreparable harm”.
She said the refugee agency had “serious concerns about Rwandan capacity” to handle the arrivals.
James Wilson of Detention Action, one of the groups involved in the case to prevent the deportations, said the British government was “turning a blind eye to the many clear dangers and human rights violations that [the policy] would inflict on people seeking asylum”.
The British government has argued the policy is in the public interest, and that it has welcomed refugees who come to the UK by approved routes and wants to put criminal smuggling gangs out of business.
More than 28,000 migrants and asylum seekers entered the UK across the Channel last year, up from 8,500 in 2020. Dozens have died, including 27 people in November when a single boat capsized.