Britain has canceled its first deportation flight to Rwanda following a last-minute intervention by the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled there was “a real risk of irreversible damage” to the asylum seekers involved.
The flight was scheduled to depart Tuesday night, but attorneys for the asylum seekers launched a spate of case-by-case appeals to stop the deportation of everyone on the government’s list.
Foreign Minister Liz Truss said earlier in the day that the plane would take off regardless of how many people were on board. But after the appeals, no one was left.
The decision to scrap the Tuesday flight limits three days of furious court challenges while immigration rights lawyers and unions tried to stop the deportations. The leaders of the Church of England joined the opposition and called the government’s policy “immoral”.
Earlier in the day, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson emphatically defended the plan. “We’re going to go ahead and deliver the plan,” Johnson declared, arguing that the move was a legitimate way to protect lives and stem the criminal gangs smuggling migrants across the English Channel in small boats.
The prime minister announced in April an agreement with Rwanda in which people who entered Britain illegally would be deported to the East African country. In exchange for its acceptance, Rwanda would 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 sending people thousands of miles to a country they do not want to live in is illegal and inhumane. Britain has seen an illegal influx of migrants from places such as Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Sudan, Iraq and Yemen in recent years.
Activists condemned the policy as an attack on the rights of refugees that most countries have recognized since the end of World War II.
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.
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