The British government’s controversial plan to send migrants arriving illegally in Britain to Rwanda is unsafe and irrational, lawyers seeking an injunction to stop the first planned deportations told the High Court in London on Friday.
The government announced in April it had struck a deal to send potentially tens of thousands of asylum seekers to the East African nation in a bid to undermine people-smuggling networks, and stem the flow of migrants risking their lives by crossing the English Channel in small boats from Europe.
The first flight to Rwanda was expected to leave on June 14, and an initial group of migrants were sent formal letters informing them they would be deported, the government said last week.
At the High Court, lawyers representing some of those migrants, along with charities and trade union, asked for an injunction to stop the flight going ahead, saying the government’s position was based on false assurances about Rwanda’s ability to offer protection to asylum seekers and process their claims.
“The pleaded case by the Secretary of State that Rwanda provides safe asylum is irrational,” said Raza Hussain, the lawyer acting for Care4Calais, Detention Action, and the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), which represents civil servants in Britain’s Home Office (interior ministry).
Hussain said the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees had raised concerns about the scheme, contrary to the government’s suggestions the agency had given it the green light.
“This is a false claim,” he said, calling it “misleading and inaccurate.”
In its written submissions, the Home Office’s legal team said the scheme was lawful, but stated it had cancelled plans to remove three asylum seekers who had initially been part of the case, without giving further details.
The government lawyers said even if the judge agreed to an injunction it should only apply to those involved in the action, and not be a blanket block on next week’s flight.
There was “clear public interest in deterring the making of dangerous journeys and the activities of criminal smugglers” which meant the flight should go ahead as scheduled, they said.
Clare Moseley, the founder of Care4Calais, said about 130 migrants faced deportation, and many of those come from Sudan, Syria, Iraq and Iran. The judge is expected to give a verdict on the injunction later.
The government’s plan has raised an outcry among human rights groups, opposition left-wing and liberal lawmakers as well as some in Johnson’s Conservative Party.
Last year, more than 28,000 migrants and refugees made the crossing from mainland Europe to Britain. In November, 27 people drowned in the Channel when their small rubber dinghy deflated, and many others have needed to be rescued from the narrow seaway, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.
Under the government scheme, anyone who has arrived in Britain illegally since Jan. 1 could be relocated to Rwanda.
The government hopes the plan will deter the Channel crossings, although more than 3,500 people have reached Britain in small boats since the middle of April, when the Rwanda scheme was unveiled, according to government figures.