The Lowdown Hub

First flight to deport asylum seekers in UK is set to leave for Rwanda

A British government plan to deport asylum-seekers of various nationalities to Rwanda is set to go ahead after two British courts rejected last-ditch appeals to block the first flights.

The policy has faced a series of legal challenges, amid criticism at home and abroad including the United Nations’ top refugee official saying the plan sets a dangerous precedent for migrants fleeing war and oppression.

The first flight is expected Tuesday, though perhaps with only a handful of people aboard.

Migrant advocacy groups have attacked the policy as inhumane and illegal ever since April, when Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the plan as way to deter people from risking their lives by paying smugglers to take them to Britain in leaky inflatable boats.

Migrants deported under the program would be forced to apply for asylum in Rwanda, not Britain. The U.K. paid Rwanda $158 million up front and will make additional payments based on the number of people deported.

Filippo Grandi, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, lashed out against the policy, describing it as “all wrong.”

If the British government is truly interested in protecting lives, it should work with other countries to target the people smugglers and provide safe routes for asylum seekers, not simply shunt migrants to other countries, Grandi said after the ruling.

“The precedent that this creates is catastrophic for a concept that needs to be shared, like asylum,” he told reporters in Geneva.

While a major precedent is at stake, the number of people immediately affected by the cases has been steadily whittled down as lawyers challenge the merits of each deportation order.

The court cases came amid a bitter political debate over Johnson’s deportation plan.

The leadership of the Church of England has joined the opposition, sending a joint letter to the Times of London to be published Tuesday.

“Whether or not the first deportation flight leaves Britain today for Rwanda, this policy should shame us as a nation,” the letter said. “The shame is our own, because our Christian heritage should inspire us to treat asylum seekers with compassion, fairness and justice, as we have for centuries.”

Johnson defended the policy.

“I think that what the criminal gangs are doing, and what those who effectively are abetting the work of the criminal gangs are doing, is undermining people’s confidence in the safe and legal system, undermining people’s general acceptance of immigration,” Johnson said before a meeting of his Cabinet.

The prime minister insisted the government would not be cowed by those attacking the strategy and told Cabinet ministers that “we are going to get on and deliver” the plan.

Rwanda is one of the most densely populated countries in the world and still among the least developed despite its focus on modernizing since the country’s 1994 genocide.

The migrants who sought better lives in Britain are expected to find fewer chances to pursue their dreams there, even as Rwandan officials describe their country as having a proud history of welcoming those in need.

For years, human rights groups have accused Rwanda’s government of cracking down on perceived dissent and keeping tight control on many aspects of life, from jailing critics to keeping homeless people off the streets of the capital, Kigali. The government denies it.