Five migrants avoid Rwanda deportation amid court fight but PM still hopeful for Tuesday flight

Boris Johnson is determined the Rwanda immigration plan will go ahead. Credit: PA

Five migrants battling their deportation to Rwanda have been told they will not be put on the first flight scheduled for next week amid a High Court battle aimed at grounding it, but around 100 migrants could still be forced to go.

The controversial plan to send migrants who enter the UK illegally more than 4,000 miles away to east Africa has been widely criticised ever since it was announced in mid-April but the first flight is set to depart on Tuesday - pending a legal ruling.

There are 31 people expected to be on Tuesday's flight but as many as 130 people have been already told by the Home Office that they could be deported.

A High Court challenge has been brought by campaign group Care4Calais and others aimed at blocking the deportation.

Four asylum seekers are battling their individual deportations, while the campaign groups are fighting on behalf of the others, with the aim of stopping the flight entirely.

As court proceedings got underway on Friday, the Home Office said it had cancelled the removal directions for three people who had asked the High Court to prevent their deportation to Rwanda.

Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana, who has been watching proceedings, reports from the High Court

Downing Street has said Boris Johnson is still hopeful the first flight sending migrants to Rwanda will go ahead on Tuesday.

A No 10 spokesman said: "Yes. You're aware of the ongoing court case today but we've set out our position on why we think this is the right approach."

The five migrants could still be deported at a later date, with the government determined to press ahead with its controversial policy which it claims will deter people from taking dangerous, illegal routes to the UK such as via small boats or in the back of lorries.

The High Court is expected to rule by the end of Friday, and the judge has three options to decide on.

The flight could be ruled legal and go ahead as planned, or it could go ahead but without some of the migrants.

The third option, which the claimants are pushing for, is to ground the flight completely.

The groups of migrants awaiting their fate is thought to be made up of people from Afghanistan, Sudan, Egypt, Iraq, Pakistani, Vietnam, Syria, Iran, Albania, Algeria, Chad, Eritrea and Turkey.

They are all men and currently housed in UK detention centres as they await the court's decision. Those who had been due to be deported on Tuesday could be released and put on tag if the flight is blocked.

More than 10,000 migrants have crossed the Channel to the UK so far this year arriving in Dover, Kent.

Ahead of Friday's court battle a Home Office spokeswoman said the plan is "key part of our strategy to overhaul the broken asylum system" and insisted it "fully complies with international and national law".

But campaign groups are concerned about what they say is Rwanda's questionable human rights record.

Clare Moseley, founder of Care4Calais, said the vast majority of the 100 or so people being detained pending their removal to Rwanda that lawyers have spoken to are "overwhelmed by total shock and despair".

She said: "Many came to the UK believing it to be a good place that would treat them more fairly than the places from which they escaped.

"We say that the Rwanda plan is unlawful. We hope the courts will agree with us."

More than 100,000 people have signed a petition calling on the government to reverse its plan.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To know...

Care4Calais, which is bringing the action along with Commercial Services Union (PCS), Detention Action, and four individual asylum seekers, says issues with the Rwanda plan centre around four main issues:

  • The home secretary's legal authority to carry out the removals

  • The rationality of the Home Office conclusion that Rwanda is generally a “safe third country”

  • The adequacy of provision for malaria prevention

  • Compliance with the Human Rights Act

The High Court was told the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, had a number of concerns about the asylum process in Rwanda, including discriminatory access to asylum - including for LGBT people - a lack of legal representation and interpreters, and difficulties in appealing.

Raza Husain QC, for the people and groups bringing the claim, said: "These are concerns that have been communicated to the UK authorities and yet the secretary of state's position ... is that the UNHCR has given this plan a green light. That is a false claim."

He said there needed to be an evidence-based assessment for the policy, "not an aspirational basis, or hopes".

"We say there is no answer whatsoever to this case on irrationality on the assessment that Rwanda's procedures are safe," he told the court.

In court documents, Home Office lawyers urged the court to reject the application, arguing it "fails at the first stage", adding: "The claimants have not identified a serious issue to be tried, still less the strong case they allege for the grant of relief at trial."