Jun 14, 2022 - Politics & Policy

U.K.'s first Rwanda deportation flight grounded after European court intervenes

Photo of a grounded plane at an airport against the evening sky

The grounded Rwanda deportation flight EC-LZO Boeing 767 on June 14 at Boscombe Down Air Base in the United Kingdom. Photo: Dan Kitwood via Getty Images

The U.K.'s first flight deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda was grounded on Tuesday after the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) intervened at the last minute.

Why it matters: Immigrant rights groups and the United Nations refugee agency have criticized the controversial policy as "irresponsible," saying it sets a "catastrophic" precedent for those fleeing conflict and persecution.

Details: Lawyers for one of the asylum seekers asked the ECHR to step in after a U.K. Court of Appeal upheld a High Court decision to reject requests to halt the flight.

  • The ECHR said in its decision that it found "serious triable issues" in the case, highlighting concerns that deported asylum seekers "will not have access to fair and efficient procedures for the determination of refugee status as well as the [High Court's] finding ... that the question whether the decision to treat Rwanda as a safe third country was irrational or based on insufficient enquiry."
  • "In light of the resulting risk of treatment contrary to the applicant’s Convention rights as well as the fact that Rwanda is outside the Convention legal space (and is therefore not bound by the European Convention on Human Rights) and the absence of any legally enforceable mechanism for the applicant’s return to the United Kingdom in the event of a successful merits challenge before the domestic courts, the Court has decided to grant this interim measure to prevent the applicant’s removal until the domestic courts have had the opportunity to first consider those issues."

The big picture: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the plan in April, calling it an effort to stop those "illegally" migrating to the country via "unseaworthy" boats on the English Channel.

  • Under the policy, the U.K. will send some asylum seekers to Rwanda where their claims will be processed. They will be allowed to remain in the East African country if their claims are successful. If they are not granted asylum, they will be offered the opportunity to apply for a visa via other routes, but face deportation, per the BBC.
  • As part of the deal, the U.K. will initially pay the Rwandan government 120 million pounds (approximately $157 million) that will be used for the "economic development and growth of Rwanda," the U.K. government said at the time.
  • The policy faced immediate pushback from international humanitarian and human rights groups, including the UN refugee agency and Amnesty International, who pointed to Rwanda's "appalling human rights record."

What they're saying: "On Rwanda, I think we’ve been so clear over the last few weeks that we believe that this is all wrong, for so many different reasons," UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi said Monday.

  • "If it were the other way around, maybe we could discuss, but here, we are talking about a country [the U.K.] with structures that is exporting its responsibility to another country, Rwanda," Grandi added.
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