A Boeing 767 sits on the runway at the military base preparing to take a number of asylum-seekers to Rwanda. AFP
The decision to scrap the flight capped three days of frantic court challenges from immigrant rights lawyers who launched a flurry of case-by-case appeals seeking to block the deportation of everyone on the government’s list.
British government officials had said earlier in the day that the plane would take off no matter how many people were on board. But after the appeals, no one remained. British media reported that the number of potential deportees had been more than 30 on Friday.
After the flight was canceled, Home Secretary Priti Patel said she was disappointed but would not be "deterred from doing the right thing.” She added: "Our legal team are reviewing every decision made on this flight and preparation for the next flight begins now.”
Activists block a road as they protest against asylum seekers’ deportation near Heathrow airport in London. Reuters
Prime Minister Boris Johnson had emphatically defended Britain’s plan, arguing that it is a legitimate way to protect lives and thwart the criminal gangs that smuggle migrants across the English Channel in small boats. Britain in recent years has seen an illegal influx of migrants from such places as Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Sudan, Iraq and Yemen.
Johnson announced an agreement with Rwanda in April in which people who enter Britain illegally will be deported to the East African country. In exchange for accepting them, Rwanda will receive millions of pounds (dollars) in development aid. The deportees will be allowed to apply for asylum in Rwanda, not Britain.
Opponents have argued that it is illegal and inhumane to send people thousands of miles to a country they don’t want to live in. The leaders of the Church of England joined the opposition, calling the government’s policy "immoral.” Prince Charles was among those opposed, according to British news reports.
Activists have denounced the policy as an attack on the rights of refugees that most countries have recognized since the end of World War II.
Refugee Council chief executive Enver Solomon said the British government's deportation threat would not serve as a deterrent to those seeking safety in the UK.
An activist blocks a road leading away from the Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre during a protest. Reuters
"The government must immediately rethink by having a grown-up conversation with France and the (European Union) about sharing responsibility and look to operating an orderly, humane, and fair asylum system,” Solomon said.
The U.N. refugee agency condemned the plan out of concern that other countries will follow suit as war, repression and natural disasters force a growing number of people from their homes.
Politicians in Denmark and Austria are considering similar proposals. Australia has operated an asylum-processing center in the Pacific island nation of Nauru since 2012.
"At a global level, this unapologetically punitive deal further condones the evisceration of the right to seek asylum in wealthy countries,” said Maurizio Albahari, a migration expert at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana as he described the UK policy.
Immediately after the decision by a three-justice panel of the Court of Appeal in London, Prime Minister Boris Johnson's office said the first deportation flight would go ahead as scheduled on Tuesday.
British residents and visitors who have had at least two doses of an approved coronavirus vaccine now only need to fill out a passenger locator form before traveling to the U.K.
British foreign office minister James Cleverly said on Monday he could not condone the actions of soccer fans who forced their way into Manchester United's stadium to protest against the club's owners, causing the postponement of a match.
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