Britain’s government announced in April that it had agreed to a deal to send asylum seekers to the East African country. Those granted asylum would then be allowed to resettle in Rwanda.
The government insisted the program was aimed at disrupting people-smuggling networks and deterring migrants from making the dangerous sea journey across the Channel to England from France.
The plan sparked a wave of criticism from charities, religious leaders and international human rights groups, including the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). A small crowd of protesters gathered in front of the court on Monday.
UNHCR Commissioner Filippo Grandi condemned the British government’s plan during a press conference in Geneva on Monday.
“We believe that this is all wrong. This is all wrong, this deal. For so many different reasons,” he said.
Grandi, while adding that the UK was signatory to the Refugee Convention, said “to export that responsibility to another country runs contrary to any notion of responsibility sharing of international responsibility.”
He also cast doubt on the UK’s rationale for deportations, adding: “I mean saving people from dangerous journeys is great, is absolutely great. But is that the right way to do it? Is that the real motivation for this deal to happen? No lo creo.”
Grandi continued that the UK had made the job of his agency “very difficult” and expressed concern that other countries might want to follow suit.
“What am I going to tell [other countries] if they say you know, a rich country like the UK, is sending them abroad, I’ll do the same. I’ll close my border, I say, you know, I want to save them from a dangerous journey and they can go to another country. The precedent that this creates is catastrophic for a concept that needs to be shared, like asylum,” Grandi said.
A separate legal case brought by the charity Asylum Aid is also being considered by the High Court on Monday. Asylum Aid is seeking an urgent injunction to halt the flight to allow judicial review of the plan to be heard.
According to data from the UK’s Ministry of Defense, 28,526 people arrived in the UK on small boats in 2021.
The legal challenge to block the deportation flights was brought by human rights groups Care4Calais and Detention Action, along with the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), a trade union that represents some of the UK Home Office workers who would be responsible for carrying out the deportations, as well as several of the asylum-seekers facing deportation to Rwanda.
The organizations claimed the policy was “unlawful on multiple bases,” and sought an injunction to stop the plane from taking off. A full court hearing on whether the plan is legal or not is scheduled to take place next month. The three groups argued no deportation flights should take place before that hearing.
They also challenged UK Home Secretary Priti Patel’s legal authority to carry out the removals, the “rationality” of her claim that Rwanda is generally a “safe third country,” given its human rights record, the adequacy of malaria prevention in the country and whether the policy complied with the European Convention on Human Rights.
The head of the PCS, Mark Serwotka, said in a statement that the union was “very disappointed with today’s decision, and the position in which it places our members who will have to carry out these forced removals.”
“Today’s judgment does not make the removal lawful — that will be decided next month. In the meantime, our members are being instructed to do something tomorrow that might be unlawful in a few weeks,” he added.
Separately, Detention Action also said it was disappointed with the ruling.
It is unclear how many people would be on the first flight on Tuesday, because many of the individuals scheduled to be deported launched their own individual legal challenges.
Care4Calais said Friday that it was working with 113 people who were facing deportation to Rwanda. The charity said on Monday that only eight of the 31 people initially due to be deported to the country on Tuesday were still due to be deported, after 23 “had their Rwanda tickets canceled.”
Raza Husain, who was representing the coalition that has launched the appeal, told the court that one person scheduled to be on the flight on Tuesday received a decision on Monday that they were still going to be deported despite being a torture victim, on the grounds that “Rwanda has a functioning health care system and it doesn’t raise any issues.”
British newspaper the Times reported on Saturday that Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, privately described the plan to send asylum-seekers to Rwanda as “appalling.”
“He said he was more than disappointed at the policy,” the Times reported, quoting an anonymous source. “He said he thinks the government’s whole approach is appalling.”
CNN has not independently verified the Times’ report. Clarence House did not deny the report, but said it would not comment on what it calls “supposed anonymous private conversations with The Prince of Wales.”
CNN’s Arnaud Siad, Lauren Said-Moorhouse, Sharon Braithwaite, Zahid Mahmood, Eliza Mackintosh, Rob Iddiols, Niamh Kennedy, Max Foster, Jorge Engels and Chris Liakos contributed reporting.