Judge rejects 1st challenge to Britain's deportation of migrants to Rwanda

A British judge has rejected a bid to ground a flight that is due to take more than 30 asylum-seekers on a one-way flight to Rwanda next week, but gave the migrants permission for a last-minute appeal.

Under Britain's controversial plan, migrants who arrive by unapproved routes will be sent to Rwanda

Demonstrators protest outside the Royal Courts of Justice while a legal case is heard over halting a planned deportation of asylum seekers from Britain to Rwanda, in London Friday. (Toby Melville/Reuters)

A British judge has rejected a bid to ground a flight due to take more than 30 asylum-seekers on a one-way journey to Rwanda next week, but gave the migrants permission for a last-minute appeal.

Judge Jonathan Swift refused a request from a group of the asylum-seekers for an injunction that would ground the flight planned for Tuesday. But he said an appeal could be heard on Monday, and a full legal challenge to the British government's new Rwanda deportation policy is to be held before the end of July.

Britain's immigration minister, Home Secretary Priti Patel, welcomed the ruling and said the government would "not be deterred" by further legal challenges.

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said he was disappointed by the judgment and called the situation "extremely worrying."

The flight is the first due to leave under a controversial deal between the U.K. and the East African country.

Under the new policy, migrants who arrive in the U.K. as stowaways or in small boats will be sent to Rwanda, where their asylum claims will be processed. If successful, they will stay in the African country. Refugee groups say the wider group includes people fleeing Syria and Afghanistan who arrived in Britain by crossing the English Channel in small boats.

As the hearing opened at the High Court in London, government lawyer Mathew Gullick said 37 people had been due to be aboard Tuesday's flight, but that six of them had their deportation orders cancelled. He said the government still intended to operate the flight, as well as future ones.

Britain paid Rwanda $190 million for the deal

According to the UN, such a move violates the international Refugee Convention. Human rights groups call the deal — for which the U.K. has paid Rwanda $190 million upfront — unworkable, inhumane and a waste of British taxpayers' money.

The claimants' lawyer Raza Husain said, "the system is not safe."

Laura Dubinsky, a lawyer representing the UN refugee agency, said refugees sent to Rwanda under the program were at risk of "serious, irreparable harm." She said the agency had "serious concerns about Rwandan capacity" to handle the arrivals.

Rwanda is the most densely populated country in Africa. Competition for land and resources contributed to decades of ethnic and political tensions that culminated in the 1994 genocide in which more than 800,000 ethnic Tutsi and the moderate Hutu who tried to protect them were killed.

President Paul Kagame's government has achieved significant economic progress since the genocide, but critics say it has come at the cost of political repression.

Migrants wait aboard a transport bus in Dover Harbour after crossing the English Channel in Dover, Britain, on May 3. Under Britain's controversial new policy, migrants who arrive in the country by unapproved routes will be sent to Rwanda. (Henry Nicholls/Reuters)

U.K. 'turning a blind eye' to policy dangers

James Wilson of Detention Action, one of the groups involved in the case, said the 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 argues the policy is in the public interest.

It is seeking to distinguish between refugees who arrive by authorized routes, such as programs to help people fleeing Afghanistan or Ukraine, and those it says arrive by illegal means, including dangerous Channel crossings run by smugglers.

The government says it welcomes refugees who come to Britain by approved routes but wants to put criminal smuggling gangs out of business.

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