First deportation flight to Rwanda halted after flurry of last minute legal bids


The flight was grounded after interventions by the European Court of Human Rights (Picture: Getty)

Plans to deport the first asylum seekers to Rwanda ended in farce after judges reprieved the last handful as they waited on the runway — on the day 400 more, including woman and children, crossed the Channel to Britain.

The Boeing 767-300 — chartered at a cost of £500,000 to taxpayers — was grounded at RAF Boscombe Down, Wiltshire, after a frantic series of last minute legal challenges.

Foreign secretary Liz Truss had said earlier: ‘The important thing is we establish the principle, we establish the deterrent to deter people-trafficking gangs.’

The government says the £120million deal for Rwanda to process UK asylum claims by people who arrive illegally will end crossings from France and break people-smugglers’ business model.

But even as deportees from Iran, Iraq, Albania and Vietnam were ferried to the jet yesterday, hundreds made the perilous journey in small boats.

They were helped ashore by RNLI crews, and the Border Force cutters Vigilant and Hurricane. Officers carried toddlers and babies to safety, while some relieved migrants waved at onlookers as they walked on to the harbour. Last November, 27 people drowned — including three children and seven women, one of whom was pregnant — off the coast of Calais.

More crossings are likely with fine weather this week, while Home Office figures suggest they increased since prime minister Boris Johnson revealed the deal with Rwanda on April 14.


AMESBURY, WILTSHIRE - JUNE 14: The grounded Rwanda deportation flight EC-LZO Boeing 767 at Boscombe Down Air Base, on June 14, 2022 in Boscombe Down. The flight taking asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda has been grounded at the last minute after intervention of the European Court of Human Rights. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
The grounded Rwanda deportation flight EC-LZO Boeing 767 at Boscombe Down Air Base (Picture: Getty)

More than 4,000 people have crossed the 21-mile Dover Strait since then.

The government hoped 31 people served with deportation papers on Friday would be on the flight. But judges threw out cases against 24 of them after actions by unions and charities.

Another man was allowed to stay after the European Court of Human Rights intervened yesterday.

He was said to be a 54 year-old from Iraq who arrived in the UK by boat in May, with a doctor finding he might have been tortured in the past.

The decision led to a reprieve for the final six minutes later. The Home Office finally confirmed the flight had been cancelled just after 10pm, after the runway lights were switched off.


Migrant Channel crossing incidents
Some 400 asylum seekers made the crossing on the day the first flight was halted (Picture: PA)

Priti Patel said she was disappointed the flight was not able to leave, but said she would not be ‘deterred from doing the right thing’, adding: ‘Our legal team are reviewing every decision made on this flight and preparation for the next flight begins now.’

The home secretary added: ‘I have always said this policy will not be easy to deliver and am disappointed that legal challenge and last-minute claims have meant today’s flight was unable to depart.

‘It is very surprising that the European Court of Human Rights has intervened despite repeated earlier success in our domestic courts.

‘These repeated legal barriers are similar to those we experience with other removals flights and many of those removed from this flight will be placed on the next.’


AMESBURY, WILTSHIRE - JUNE 14: A full Strawberry Supermoon is seen from Boscombe Down Air Base, on June 14, 2022 in Boscombe Down. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
The flight was scrapped with just minutes to spare (Picture: Getty)

Britain’s Supreme Court had rejected a bid on Monday to halt the flight after Ms Patel assured it those on board would return if a judicial review in July found the policy is illegal.

Mr Johnson had also defended the controversial policy, branded ‘shameful to the UK’ by 25 Church of England bishops and said to have been called ‘appalling’ by the Prince of Wales. ‘We are not going to be in any way deterred or abashed by some of the criticism, some of it from slightly unexpected quarters,’ he insisted. ‘We are going to get on and deliver.’

But Mr Johnson was forced to admit the scheme — due to be tested in the High Court in July — could also be illegal under the European convention of human rights amid fears of abuses in the east African country.

‘Will it be necessary to change some laws to help us as we go along?’ he told Sky News. ‘It very well may be.’ The PM said the scheme was under a ‘huge amount of attack, not least from lawyers’, telling the Cabinet they were ‘abetting the work of criminal gangs’.

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But the Bar Council and Law Society said in a joint statement: ‘It is misleading and dangerous for the PM to suggest lawyers who bring such legal challenges are doing anything other than their job and upholding the law.’

Rwanda’s government insisted it was ready to welcome deported refugees from across the world. ‘We do not consider living in Rwanda a punishment,’ spokeswoman Yolanda Makolo told a press conference in capital Kigali, where refugees had been due to stay in the Hope Hostel.

But a spokesman for the charity Médecins Sans Frontières insisted: ‘There’s absolutely no evidence to suggest this will deter people from trying to seek refuge in the UK.’

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at [email protected].

For more stories like this, check our news page.

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