UK vows to pursue asylum policy after Rwanda flight cancelled

Online desk |  1 year ago | international

LONDON - Britain says it would pursue its controversial policy to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda after a first flight was cancelled following a legal ruling, in an embarrassing blow to Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government.

The number of those due to be put on the flight on Tuesday had dwindled from an original 130 to seven and finally none after a last-minute order by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

British Home Secretary Priti Patel said she was disappointed that "legal challenge and last-minute claims" meant the plane did not take off but insisted the heavily criticised programme would go ahead.

“We will not be deterred," she said in a statement.

"Our legal team are reviewing every decision made on this flight and preparation for the next flight begins now."

The grounding followed an ECHR ruling that at least one of the asylum seekers should stay in Britain as there were no guarantees for his legal future in Rwanda, an East African country thousands of miles (kilometres) away.

Patel called the ECHR intervention "very surprising" and vowed that "many of those removed from this flight will be placed on the next".

Rwanda also said it remained committed to taking in the asylum seekers under the April deal, which has come under fire from the UN, rights groups and church leaders.

"We are not deterred by these developments," government spokeswoman Yolande Makolo told AFP. "Rwanda stands ready to receive the migrants when they do arrive and offer them safety and opportunity in our country."

The flight cancellation is an embarrassment for Johnson's Conservative government after Foreign Secretary Liz Truss insisted the Kigali-bound plane would leave no matter how many people were on board.

But the ECHR issued an urgent interim measure to prevent the deportation of an Iraqi man booked on the flight as he may have been tortured and his asylum application was not completed.

The Strasbourg-based court said the expulsion should wait until British courts have taken a final decision on the legality of the policy, set for July.

British newspapers from across the political spectrum expressed outrage at the 11th-hour reversal and the government's handling of the affair.

The conservative Daily Mail and Daily Express placed the blame in the hands of "meddling judges in Strasbourg", expressing anger at what they called the "abuse of the legal system". 

The left-leaning Daily Mirror, meanwhile, slammed the government's "cruel farce" and the "chaos" the policy had provoked.