UK’s Rwanda asylum plan faces last-gasp challenge
UK campaigners get their last chance in court on Monday to stop the government’s first flight of asylum seekers to Rwanda.
The government is vowing to push ahead with the planeload of 31 claimants, on a chartered flight on Tuesday from an undisclosed airport.
It defeated an attempt to halt the plan on Friday in the High Court, brought by refugee charities and a trade union which called it immoral, dangerous and counter-productive.
But the same groups have filed an emergency appeal for Monday, alongside a separate legal challenge, and have been heartened by Prince Charles reportedly dubbing the plan “appalling”.
The claimants include the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), whose members in the UK Border Force agency are tasked with executing the deportations.
PCS chief Mark Serwotka noted that as part of its judgment on Friday, the High Court had scheduled a fuller hearing for next month on the legality of the plan overall.
“Imagine if you’re told to do something on Tuesday, that in July is subsequently found to be illegal. That would be an appalling situation,” he told Sky News on Sunday.
Home Secretary Priti Patel should wait for the July hearing if she “had any respect, not just for the desperate people who come to this country, but for the workers she employs”, Serwotka added.
“We’re absolutely confident that in July, in line with what the UNHCR (UN Refugee Agency) said very graphically in court, we believe these proposals will be found to be unlawful.”
However, Patel and Prime Minister Boris Johnson are unbowed, insisting the policy is needed to stop a flood of all-too-often deadly migrant crossings of the Channel from France.
Under the agreement with Kigali, anyone landing in the UK illegally is liable to be given a one-way ticket for processing and resettlement in Rwanda.
– ‘Hate speech and discrimination’ –
The government says that will dismantle the business model of gangsters who charge would-be migrants thousands of dollars to undertake the perilous crossing for a new life in Britain.
Genuine asylum claimants should be content to stay in France, it says.
And contradicting the UNHCR, it insists that Rwanda is a safe destination with the capacity to absorb possibly tens of thousands of UK-bound claimants in future.
For now, the deportations will proceed “on a gradual basis”, Doris Uwicyeza, chief technical adviser to Rwanda’s justice ministry, told LBC radio.
Uwicyeza pushed back at criticism over the human rights record of President Paul Kagame’s government — which is set this month to host a Commonwealth summit attended by Prince Charles and Johnson.
Rwanda’s 1990s genocide made it particularly attentive to “protecting anybody from hate speech and discrimination”, including gay people, she said.
But British critics of the new policy are unconvinced.
They include Charles, according to The Times newspaper on Saturday, prompting unnamed cabinet ministers to tell Queen Elizabeth II’s heir to stay out of politics in the Sunday Times.
International NGO Human Rights Watch issued a public letter warning that “to this day, serious human rights abuses continue to occur in Rwanda, including repression of free speech, arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, and torture”.