Asylum seekers, aid groups and a border officials union filed lawsuits to stop the conservative government from acting on a deportation agreement with Rwanda.
The United Kingdom’s interior minister, Suella Braverman, has arrived in Rwanda to discuss an agreement in which the UK will relocate undocumented refugees and migrants there as she doubles down on a plan that has been mired in legal challenges and controversy.
Last year, the UK agreed to send tens of thousands of people more than 4,000 miles (6,400km) away to Rwanda as part of a 120-million-pound ($146m) deal. No flights have been taken off yet because opponents are challenging the policy in the courts.
The deal with Rwanda is a major part of Britain’s plans to detain and deport asylum seekers arriving in small boats across the English Channel.
Braverman met Rwanda’s foreign minister, Vincent Biruta, on Saturday and told reporters in Kigali that she had agreed extra support for the people whom the UK sends to the country.
“Many countries around the world are grappling with unprecedented numbers of illegal migrants, and I sincerely believe that this world-leading partnership … is both humanitarian and compassionate and also fair and balanced,” the home secretary said at a news conference with Biruta.
Biruta said the proposals “offer better opportunities for migrants and Rwandans alike” and would help with the British government’s goal to disrupt people-trafficking networks.
Braverman is expected to meet Rwandan President Paul Kagame on Sunday.
The partnership was announced in Aprilbut the first deportation flight was blocked by an injunction from the European Court of Human Rights.
In December, London’s High Court ruled the policy lawfulbut its judges also said the government failed to consider the individual circumstances of the people it tried to deport, signaling further legal battles ahead.
Opponents are seeking to appeal that verdict in April and it could yet go to Britain’s Supreme Court later in the year.
Several asylum seekers, aid groups and a border officials union have filed lawsuits to stop the Conservative Party government from acting on the deportation agreement with Rwanda.
If the policy is upheld, asylum seekers would have to present their asylum claims in Rwanda. Those not granted asylum in Rwanda would, under the plan, be able to apply to stay on other grounds or try to get resettled in another country.
Opposition parties and charities have described the government’s plans on immigration as unethical and unworkable, saying the plan – known as the Illegal Migration Bill – Criminalises the efforts of thousands of genuine refugees.
Rights groups have also argued that Rwanda is not a safe destination since the 1994 genocide there. Human Rights Watch issued a public letter warning, “Serious human rights abuses continue to occur in Rwanda, including repression of free speech, arbitrary detention, ill-treatment and torture.”
Braverman has robustly defended her approach and described her opponents as “naive do-gooders”. The government insists the policy is needed to stop the all too often deadly crossings of the Channel from France, saying the deal would undermine the business model of people-smuggling networks.
Since a record 45,000 people arrived in Britain last year on small boats, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said that finding a solution is one of his top priorities.
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