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UK announces date for first Rwanda deportation flight

1 month ago
Demonstrators hold placards during a protest against the British Government's latest plan to deport immigrants to Rwanda, outside the Home Office in central London on December 18, 2023. [ HENRY NICHOLLS / AFP) (Photo by HENRY NICHOLLS/AFP via Getty Images]

Demonstrators hold placards during a protest against the British Government's latest plan to deport immigrants to Rwanda, outside the Home Office in central London on December 18, 2023. [ HENRY NICHOLLS / AFP) (Photo by HENRY NICHOLLS/AFP via Getty Images]

Britain intends to begin deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda on 24 July, a government lawyer said on Monday, although the hotly contested scheme is dependent on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservative Party winning the upcoming General Election, Reuters has reported.

Sending asylum seekers to Rwanda if they have arrived in Britain without permission is one of Sunak’s flagship policies, but legal and parliamentary obstacles have meant it has never got off the ground. The prime minister has said that the deportation flights will not leave before the 4 July election, but has promised that if he wins they will begin soon after. The opposition Labour Party, meanwhile, is leading by about 20 points in opinion polls, and has pledged to scrap the plan if elected.

In documents submitted to the High Court in London as part of a challenge to the policy by charity Asylum Aid, government lawyers said that the intention was “to effect removals with a flight to Rwanda on 23 July 2024 (and not before).” However, government lawyer Edward Brown later told the court that an “operational update” from the Home Office said that the first flight would, in fact, leave on 24 July.

The scheme, first drawn up by one of Sunak’s predecessors, Boris Johnson, in 2022, aims to deter asylum seekers making the dangerous journey across the English Channel in small boats from France. Last November, the UK Supreme Court declared the policy to be unlawful, prompting Sunak to sign a new treaty with the East African country and pass new legislation to override this.

Asylum Aid’s lawyer Charlotte Kilroy said that the date earmarked for the first flight was “news to us.” The judge, Martin Chamberlain, remarked: “This is all going to be subject to the outcome of the General Election, but we obviously cannot make any predictions about that.”

The number of asylum seekers crossing the Channel has risen to record numbers this year, with more than 10,000 people arriving so far, after numbers fell by a third in 2023.

The UK won’t be the first country to send refugees and asylum seekers to Central Africa. Israel has been sending African refugees “back” to Rwanda and Uganda for the past decade or so.

READ: Austria hails controversial ‘Rwanda model’ as trailblazer in combating irregular migration to Europe

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