Home secretary Priti Patel has told the House of Commons that ministers remain committed to following through with plans to send some asylum seekers entering the UK to Rwanda, despite being frustrated by legal interventions.
Patel told MPs that the government will “not be deterred from doing the right thing” by legal challenges and that plans for future flights to Rwanda are already being prepared.
First unveiled in April, the government’s plan would see some asylum seekers who cross the Channel and enter the UK illegally sent to Rwanda for processing, where they will then be granted asylum in the African country if successful.
Patel has said that the plan is intended to deter migrants from making the deadly crossings in future.
The first flight that was set to carry migrants to Rwanda on Tuesday evening was grounded minutes before its scheduled take-off, after the European Court of Human Rights [ECHR] mounted a challenge.
The flight had been permitted by the UK High Court and around seven asylum seekers were expected to be on board.
The challenge that led to the flight’s cancellation, which related to one Iraqi man set to be on board, outlined that the individual was at risk of “irreversible harm” if he was taken to Rwanda.
The ECHR said that the man should not be flown out to Rwanda until the Supreme Court finalises its judicial review of the Rwanda policy. The final judgement is expected to be delivered in July.
Patel called the ECHR ruling “disappointing and surprising” and insisted that the UK was “fully compliant” with both its “domestic and international obligations” in carrying out the Rwanda plan.
She told MPs: “We will not stand idly by and let organised crime gangs, who are despicable in their nature and their conduct, evil people, treat human beings as cargo.
“We will not accept that we have no right to control our borders.”
The Rwandan government has said that it also remains committed to following through on its agreement with the UK and was “not deterred” by the ECHR preventing the first flight from leaving.
Campaign group Migration Watch UK, which favours lower immigration, hit out at what it called “remote human rights judges” for taking decisions on the UK’s border control out of the hands of Parliament and the British courts.
Responding to the home secretary in Parliament, Labour denounced the Rwanda plan, with shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper saying that it made the UK look “shameful” to the wider world.
Cooper called the Rwanda plan a “gimmick” and “short-term stunt”, criticising ministers for knowingly planning to put “torture and trafficking victims” on the first flight.
However, the government reiterated the need for the policy to act as a deterrent to illegal migration by pointing out that 444 people attempted to cross the Channel in boats on Tuesday, the highest figure recorded in a single day for two months.
Ministers now must weigh-up whether to approach the ECHR to lift the ruling, contest the judicial review currently underway at the Supreme Court, or bring legislation to Parliament which will write the Rwanda policy into law.
Judicial reviews are unable to overturn acts of Parliament that are approved by MPs, so the government could opt to bring the policy to Parliament in a bid to allow future flights to leave.
Human rights lawyer Frances Swaine, who represents one asylum seeker who is set to be deported to Rwanda, said that an assessment now needed to be carried out to determine whether any other individuals could be put on flights out of the country between now and the conclusion of the judicial review.
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