UK judge refuses injunction against Rwanda deportation flights

Controversial UK government plans to deport the first of many asylum seekers to Rwanda by air next Tuesday can go ahead after a High Court judge granted a judicial review of the policy but refused a temporary injunction suspending flights.

Justice Jonathan Swift ruled on Friday that there was a “material public interest” in allowing the home secretary Priti Patel to pursue the policy, which the government hopes will deter people smugglers from trafficking refugees across the channel from France.

A coalition of NGOS, the Public and Commercial Services Union and four of the detainees had sought to halt the first flights while a judicial review of the policy takes place.

Swift gave permission to the claimants to appeal against his ruling, suggesting that the Court of Appeal would hear the case on Monday.

He dismissed some of the arguments by the claimants who had challenged the policy around the risks of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda as “in the realms of speculation”. However, he said these would be dealt with in a judicial review that could take up to six weeks.

The first flight is scheduled to depart from a secret location on Tuesday, carrying the first of more than 130 refugees who have been detained since arriving in the UK by boat across the channel in May.

In a bid to prevent it from taking off, the claimants argued that the policy is unlawful on multiple grounds. These include “contravening the human rights act; the rationality of . . . [Patel’s] conclusion that Rwanda is generally a ‘safe third country’; the adequacy of provision for malaria prevention, and the legal authority of the home secretary to carry out the removals”.

UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, submitted supporting evidence at the hearing, arguing that the UK-Rwanda arrangement “fails to meet the required standards relating to the legality and appropriateness of transfers of asylum-seekers”.

It argued that screening procedures in place in the UK for asylum-seekers subject to forcible transfer to Rwanda are insufficient to determine vulnerabilities which would exempt them from removal. “The UNHCR also considers the UK-Rwanda deal to be inconsistent with the 1951 Refugee Convention,” a UNHCR spokesperson in the UK said.

Lawyers representing the Home Office argued their case on public interest grounds. “It is striking that nowhere in the claimants’ submissions on interim relief is there any consideration of the impact of any public interest factors, still less any analysis or balancing of the importance of the public interest being pursued in this regard,” they said.

Prime minister Boris Johnson tweeted: “Welcome news from the High Court today. We cannot allow people traffickers to put lives at risk and our world leading partnership will help break the business model of these ruthless criminals.”

Friday’s emergency hearing was the first of several expected legal challenges to the £120mn agreement with Rwanda announced by Patel last month.

On Monday, the refugee charity, Asylum Aid, will apply to the same High Court judge for an urgent interim injunction to stop the government flying refugees to Rwanda.

Asylum Aid’s concerns include that the plans involve such tight timeframes — only seven days for each asylum seeker to obtain legal advice and to present their case — that the process is inherently flawed and unfair.

Another NGO, Freedom from Torture, has sent airlines believed to be involved in the scheme 15,000 letters of protest from members of the public.

Reacting to Friday’s ruling Sonya Sceats, chief executive of the charity, said: “The fight is far from over. Caring people across Britain are incensed that this government wants to send people seeking safety halfway across the world and are taking action.”

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