High Court to hear urgent bid to block deportation flight to Rwanda

Katie R. Ochoa

An urgent bid to block next week’s planned deportation flight to Rwanda under the Government’s controversial policy to remove asylum seekers to the east African nation will be heard at the High Court today.

Legal challenges have been issued on behalf of a number of people who have received notification they will be removed on a flight due to leave the UK on Tuesday June 14. Alongside those are challenges to the policy brought by the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS), which represents more than 80% of Border Force staff, as well as refugee campaign groups and charities including Care4Calais, Asylum Aid and Detention Action.

Lawyers acting for the groups say the policy is unlawful and are seeking an urgent injunction at a hearing on Friday to stop next week’s planned flight, and any other such flights, ahead of a full hearing of the case later in the year. The first flight from the UK containing migrants is expected to leave next Tuesday, but could be grounded if the High Court grants the injunction.

Home Office officials are thought to be expecting that the remaining 38 or so notified to be on the June 14 flight will follow suit this week. It comes as the latest figures show more than 10,000 migrants have crossed the Channel to the UK so far this year.

James Wilson, deputy director of Detention Action, said: “In her desire to punish people for seeking asylum by forcing them on to a plane to Rwanda, Priti Patel has overstepped her authority. By rushing through what we say is an unlawful policy, she is turning a blind eye to the many clear dangers and human rights violations that it would inflict on people seeking asylum.”

Clare Moseley, founder of Care4Calais, said the vast majority of the 100 or so people being detained pending removal to Rwanda that lawyers have spoken to are “overwhelmed by total shock and despair”.

She said: “Many came to the UK believing it to be a good place that would treat them more fairly than the places from which they escaped. We say that the Rwanda plan is unlawful. We hope the courts will agree with us.”

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS, said: “It appears this Government has learned nothing from the Windrush scandal, among others. PCS is not prepared to countenance our members being put in potentially dangerous and traumatic situations, where they may be asked to act illegally.”

Kerry Smith, chief executive of Asylum Aid, said: “This Government’s attempt to punish vulnerable people seeking asylum because it doesn’t approve of the way they reached our shores is simply unlawful. This shameful push to rapidly remove people seeking protection to Rwanda is another attempt to pass the buck on the UK’s responsibilities.”

Tessa Gregory, partner at law firm Leigh Day, who is representing Asylum Aid along with solicitors Stephanie Hill and Carolin Ott, said: “There is no doubt that the decisions to forcibly remove those seeking asylum in the UK to Rwanda are of the most profound significance. Such decisions plainly should not be taken in circumstances where affected individuals have not had a fair opportunity to make representations and where there are serious and complex issues about the lawfulness of the entire scheme which have not yet been determined by the court.”

The injunction applications are being supported by charity Freedom from Torture, whose chief executive Sonya Sceats said: “The public outcry at the Government’s cruel plan to send refugees to Rwanda has been so great that airlines expected of involvement in next week’s flights have already begun to rule themselves out.

“We believe these flights are probably unlawful, so the Government is trying to rush the first flights out before legal challenges derail their plans. This is a brazen attempt to avoid judicial scrutiny by a Government that thinks the law does not apply to them.”

In a statement issued on Thursday, Lubna Shuja, vice president of the Law Society – which represents solicitors in England and Wales – said the court hearings may provide the first real scrutiny of the policy, which has not been examined in detail by Parliament. However, she said it is not clear whether the policy is compatible with the UK’s commitments under the UN Refugee Convention and said the Law Society has concerns over reports that some of those facing deportation have not had time to access proper legal advice.

She added: “We also understand notices have been issued at such speed that it’s not clear if or how the Home Office could have properly considered the basis of each person’s claim and individual circumstances.”

Channel crossings resumed on Tuesday after a three-day pause, with 79 people arriving in Dover, according to Ministry of Defence (MoD) data. This takes the total for the year to date to 10,020, analysis of Government figures by the PA news agency shows.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “Our world-leading partnership with Rwanda is a key part of our strategy to overhaul the broken asylum system. We have been clear from the start that we expected legal challenges, however we are determined to deliver this new partnership.

“We have now issued formal directions to the first group of people due to be relocated to Rwanda later this month. This marks a critical step towards operationalising the policy, which fully complies with international and national law.”

The High Court hearing, before Mr Justice Swift, is due to begin at 10.30am today, June 10.

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