The Home Office’s plan to tackle illegal immigration has been the subject of controversy for months. But what will it mean for asylum seekers looking to settle in the UK?
Updated 15 June: Last night (14 June) a dramatic 11th-hour ruling by the European Court of Human Rights put a stop to the first scheduled flight of asylum seekers to Rwanda as part of the government’s controversial deportation scheme.
Up to seven people, who had come to the UK seeking refuge, had been expected to travel to the east African country an hour and a half before the flight was due to take off. However, a ruling by the court on one of the seven cases allowed lawyers for the other six to make successful last-minute applications.
Priti Patel, the home secretary, said she was “disappointed” by the legal challenge. “We will not be deterred from doing the right thing and delivering our plans to control our nation’s borders,” she said. “Our legal team is reviewing every decision made on this flight and preparation for the next flight begins now.”
The Home Office’s controversial Rwanda deportation plan has long been the subject of outrage and protest, but legal challenges had been ramped up ahead of the first scheduled flight.
Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, had confirmed earlier in the day that the first flight taking asylum seekers to Rwanda would leave and that those who are not removed will be placed on subsequent flights. Up to 130 people were initially expected to be on the first flight to Rwanda. Individual legal challenges saw this figure drop to 31 on 10 June and to seven yesterday (14 June).
What does the Rwanda plan mean for asylum seekers in the UK?
Under the government scheme, anyone who arrived in Britain by routes deemed illegal since 1 January can be relocated to Rwanda, which the government has said it hopes will deter illegal immigration.
While their application is considered by Rwanda, those affected will be given accommodation and support and, if successful, will be permitted to remain there with up to five years’ access to education and support.
Those who fail in their asylum bids in Rwanda will be offered the chance to apply for visas under other immigration routes if they wish to remain in the country, but could still face deportation.
However, many campaigners and opposition MPs have expressed their concerns about the robustness of the asylum process in Rwanda, including the potential for discrimination against LGBTQ+ people and a lack of legal representation.
On Saturday. the High Court ruled that the government flight could go ahead. Lawyers acting on behalf of the 31 asylum seekers scheduled to board the flight had argued the policy was unlawful and sought the urgent injunction to stop it, along with any other such flights ahead of a full hearing of the case later in the year. However, Mr Justice Swift refused to grant interim relief, a ruling that was welcomed by home secretary Priti Patel.
“I welcome the court’s decision in our favour and will now continue to deliver on progressing our world-leading Migration Partnership,” Patel wrote on Twitter on Friday following the decision.
“People will continue to try and prevent their relocation through legal challenges and last-minute claims but we will not be deterred in breaking the deadly people smuggling trade and ultimately save lives.
“Rwanda is a safe country and has previously been recognised for providing a safe haven for refugees – we will continue preparations for the first flight to Rwanda, alongside the range of other measures intended to reduce small boat crossings.”
The government had previously defended the scheme as necessary to tackle human trafficking, with prime minister Boris Johnson tweeting: “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 has repeatedly said the government will not be “deterred or abashed” by criticism of the plan.
However, the UN’s refugee agency had warned the scheme was unlawful and the Refugee Council called the government’s plans to push on despite many legal challenges was “extremely worrying”.
Speaking to Sky News, Clare Moseley of refugee rights campaign group Care 4 Calais shared that “terrified” asylum seekers who have fled from torture in their home countries are “begging” not to be sent to Rwanda.
“The people I’m talking to have come from some of the worst places in the world and had horrific things happen to them,” she told the interviewer. “There are other ways to stop this. We don’t want people risking their lives crossing the channel, but there are other ways. It doesn’t have to be this brutal.”
“I’m deeply ashamed of this country for its cruel inhumane treatment of refugees & asylum seekers. Deporting them to Rwanda is to appease racists in the UK. Pure evil,” tweeted lawyer and author of This Is Why I Resist Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu.
“We must stand together in this moment and say instead with a unified message: Refugees are welcome here!” added campaign group Choose Love. “This fight is not over. Please join us in writing to your MP today to urge them to take action against this cruel decision. It takes minutes and could save lives.”
How to take action against the Rwanda deportation plan
According to Choose Love, you can also support by:
Stylist has reached out to the Home Office for comment.