Britain’s first scheduled flight taking asylum seekers to Rwanda was due to depart on Tuesday, with the government warning that anyone who avoided it through last-minute legal challenges would be put on a later flight anyway.
“We are expecting to send the flight later today,” Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told Sky News. “I can’t say exactly how many people will be on the flight. But the really important thing is that we establish the principle.”
Britain has struck a 120-million-pound ($148 million) deal with Rwanda to send some migrants, who had arrived illegally by crossing the Channel in small boats from Europe, to live in the landlocked African country.
But the plan has horrified political opponents, charities and church leaders who say it is inhumane. The United Nations’ refugee chief called it “catastrophic”, the entire leadership of the Church of England denounced it as an “immoral policy that shames Britain”.
Amid legal challenges, only a few people are now scheduled to leave on that first plane.
Some 37 individuals had been scheduled to be removed on Tuesday, which charities said included people fleeing Afghanistan and Syria as well as Iran and Iraq. However a string of successful legal challenges has reduced that number to seven, according to charity Care4Calais.
At least three High Court appeals were still to be heard.
Human rights groups say the policy will put migrants at risk. The UNHCR has said Rwanda, whose own human rights record is under scrutiny, does not have the capacity to process the claims, and there is a risk some migrants could be returned to countries from which they had fled.
A full hearing to determine the legality of the policy as a whole is due in July.