Britain has canceled its first deportation flight to Rwanda after a last-minute intervention by the European Court of Human Rights, which decided there was “a real risk of irreparable harm” to the asylum seekers involved.
The flight was supposed to leave on Tuesday evening, but lawyers for asylum seekers have sparked a flurry of appeals, case-by-case, demanding a halt to the deportations of everyone on the government’s list.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said earlier in the day that the plane would take off, no matter how many people were on board. But even after appeal no one remained.
Tuesday’s flight cap decided to cancel three days of frantic court challenges as immigration rights advocates and labor unions sought to halt deportations. Leaders of the Church of England joined the opposition, describing the government’s policy as “immoral”.
Earlier in the day, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson strongly defended the plan. “We are going to go ahead and deliver”, Johnson declared, arguing that the move was a legitimate way to protect lives and thwart criminal gangs smuggling migrants across the English Channel in small boats. .
The prime minister announced an agreement with Rwanda in April to deport people who entered the UK illegally to the East African country. In return for accepting them, Rwanda will receive millions of pounds (dollars) in development aid. Deportees will not be allowed to apply for asylum in the UK but in Rwanda.
Opponents have argued that it is illegal and inhumane to send people thousands of miles to a country they do not want to live in. In recent years the UK has seen an illegal influx of migrants from places such as Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Sudan. Iraq and Yemen.
Activists have condemned the policy as an attack on the rights of refugees that most countries have recognized since the end of World War II.
Politicians in Denmark and Austria are considering similar proposals. Australia has operated an asylum-processing center in the Pacific island nation of Nauru since 2012.