The UK government's first flight with asylum seekers destined for Rwanda was grounded by a European court ruling. But Britain and Rwanda say they are undeterred. So what next? InfoMigrants sets out a series of questions and answers:
Why was the first UK flight to Rwanda grounded?
While a series of different legal challenges in the UK courts failed to prevent the flight from taking off, a last-minute appeal in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled on the case of one man, an Iraqi known as K.N.
The court ruled that the UK government should not remove the man before hearing fully his ongoing judicial review proceedings, which are scheduled for July.
Because K.N.'s removal was stopped, the other asylum seekers due to be on the flight were also able to appeal, based on the judgment of the ECHR.
The UK is one of 46 countries signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights and therefore bound by its judgments.
Who is K.N.?
K.N. was born in 1968 in Iraq, and traveled via Turkey and France before crossing the Channel to the UK. He left Iraq on April 22, claiming that his life was in danger. He arrived in the UK on May 17, 2022, where he applied for asylum.
What was the British government’s response to K.N.’s asylum claim?
On May 24, the UK government served K.N. with a "Notice of Intent" saying it was considering relocating him to Rwanda. Three days later "a medical doctor in the Immigration Removal Center issued a report indicating that the applicant might have been a victim of torture." On June 6, he was told that his asylum claim had been deemed inadmissible and he would be on the first flight to Kigali the following week.
What was the British court’s response to K.N.’s appeal against the notice to fly?
"The High Court refused to grant the applicant’s request for interim relief, either by preventing the relocation of all asylum seekers to Rwanda under the asylum partnership agreement or by preventing the applicant’s removal there."
Part of the grounds for that refusal was that, if K.N.'s judicial review in July were to succeed and if the court were to find that he shouldn’t have been sent to Rwanda, the British government would then have to fly him back to Britain.
What was the ECHR’s response to K.N.’s case?
The court ruled that K.N. should not be removed "until the expiry of a period of three weeks following the delivery of the final domestic (i.e. UK) decision in the ongoing judicial review proceedings."
That means that it is unlikely that K.N. will be flown to Rwanda before August, if at all.
The ECHR also said it had regard to concerns identified by the UN Refugee Agency that "asylum seekers transferred from the United Kingdom to Rwanda will not have access to fair and efficient procedures for the determination of refugee status," as well as questions about the UK's decision to treat Rwanda as a 'safe third country'.
In addition, the ECHR concluded that because Rwanda is outside the ECHR’s jurisdiction, even if it was told to return the man to the UK, if his judicial review were to be successful, it would not have to comply, and therefore there was an "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."
So, what next?
The British Government has claimed it will be pressing on with preparation for the next flight, although the date for that one has not yet been made public.
According to the news agency Associated Press (AP), Britain’s Home Secretary Priti Patel (Interior Minister), the architect of the Rwanda policy, declared "preparation for the next flight begins now."
Prime Minister Boris Johnson also called the plan legitimate and said they would press on.
Another government minister, Therese Coffey, told Sky News that she was "surprised and disappointed by the ruling."
Some other Conservative party members are calling for the UK to withdraw from the Strasbourg-based ECHR so that future legal decisions in the UK are not bound by a European court ruling.
A human rights lawyer, Frances Swaine, who is representing one of the people due to be sent to Rwanda, told AP that she thought the UK government should take a moment to think about whether another flight is "worth it, either from a financial or a legal perspective, to organize one of these very expensive flights again when they’ve been so unsuccessful this time around on legal grounds."
Rwanda too has said it is "not deterred by these developments." On Tuesday, Rwandan government spokesperson Yolande Makolo told the French news agency Agence France Presse (AFP): "Rwanda remains fully committed to making this partnership work."
Makolo continued saying that "Rwanda stands ready to receive the migrants when they do arrive and offer them safety and opportunity in our country."
The Guardian reports that Boris Johnson hinted "that the UK could leave the European Convention on Human Rights [in order] to make it easier to remove illegal migrants from the UK." When asked about whether he would consider withdrawing from the ECHR, he replied: "Will it be necessary to change some laws to help us as we go along? It may very well be."
Under a cost-benefit analysis, does this policy stand up?
That depends on who you ask.
However, the BBC and the Guardian have reported that chartering a private Boeing-767, such as the one due to take off on June 14, would cost in the region of half a million pounds (around €580,000).
According to a government source, "the flight had already been paid for from the public purse," the Guardian reported.
The newspaper added that the government had "declined to say how much it has paid in legal costs, and has not said how much it expects to pay for future flights, accommodation and living costs for everyone sent to Rwanda."
Under the Memorandum of Understanding signed with Rwanda, the British government pledged about £120 million to Rwanda, as a downpayment in order to accept and process asylum seekers flown from the UK.
According to the BBC, even if the legal challenges cease, it is thought that the numbers being flown to Rwanda could remain "in the hundreds." In April, the British government claimed it would be flying "thousands" to Rwanda. An exact figure has never been established. However, 130 were originally due to be on the first flight, which was reduced by legal challenges to 31, and then to seven, and then zero.
Therese Coffey said on BBC Radio 4 on June 15 that that was preferable to paying out millions per day on accommodation within the UK, which the government is doing now. Coffey repeated the government line that it is trying to "fix Britain’s broken asylum system."
The government says that immigration is currently costing the UK taxpayer £1.5 billion per year, reported the Guardian. It is costing almost £5 million per day to keep asylum seekers in hotels when space in other centers is not available.
However, since the beginning of January 2022, more than 10,000 people have already crossed the Channel to the UK. The vast majority of them go on to seek asylum.
By the government’s own figures, many of their asylum cases are successful, with granting rates above 80-90% for many nationalities who are found to have grounds for seeking protection in the UK.
Since the policy was announced in mid-April this year, hundreds, if not thousands per week have continued to cross the Channel towards the UK.
On Tuesday, June 14, AP reports that more than 440 people were brought ashore in southern England "including heavily pregnant woman and parents with children."