Boris Johnson insists Rwanda asylum policy aimed at 'stopping criminal gangs'

A group of people onboard a Border Force vessel. Credit: PA

Boris Johnson has defended the government's policy to send asylum seekers on a one-way trip to Rwanda amid ongoing legal battles and royal criticism, insisting the plan is aimed at stopping people-trafficking gangs.

The government’s immigration policy of deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda faces two legal challenges on Monday as campaigners seek to appeal a High Court ruling that gave the go-ahead to the first flight on Tuesday.

A High Court judge ruled against granting a temporary block to the policy on Friday but this is being challenged in the Court of Appeal.

The prime minister said the government had expected “those who want to have a completely open-doors approach to immigration” would try to challenge the Rwanda policy.

Mr Johnson told LBC: “There are very active lawyers in this field. I have the utmost respect for the legal profession but it is also important we stop criminal gangs.”

Asked if the policy will be worth it if it results in just one person being removed, Mr Johnson said: “I think it’s very important that the criminal gangs who are putting people’s lives at risk in the Channel is going to be broken – is being broken – by this government.

“They are selling people a false hope, they are luring them into something extremely risky and criminal."

Migrants land on a beach in Dungeness, Kent in July 2021. Credit: ITV News

Monday's appeal has been brought by the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS), which represents more than 80% of Border Force staff, along with the Care4Calais and Detention Action charities.

A second case is due to be heard in the High Court on Monday after Asylum Aid, a refugee charity, applied for an urgent interim injunction to stop the government flying refugees to Rwanda.

Mr Justice Swift, who ruled on the first case on Friday, is also set to hear the second case.

Rwanda’s high commissioner Johnston Busingye defended the policy, insisting that Rwanda will be a “safe haven” for migrants. His comments come after the Prince of Wales allegedly said in private the policy was “appalling”.

Home Secretary Priti Patel says the “vast majority” of those who arrive in the UK through means deemed “illegal” – such as on unauthorised boats or stowed away in lorries – will be considered for relocation.

It is understood that adults will be prioritised for relocation under the scheme, with officials insisting families arriving in the UK will not be split up.

As of Friday, up to 130 people had been notified they could be deported among them asylum seekers who have experienced torture and trafficking.

Demonstrators at a removal centre at Gatwick protest against plans to send migrants to Rwanda. Credit: PA

But the High Court in London heard 31 people were due on the first flight, before a further 15 asylum seekers, who had faced torture, had their tickets cancelled. Care4Calais, a charity assisting this group, said the 15 asylum seekers will now stay in the UK as there is evidence they have been tortured, trafficked or have a medical condition which makes deportation unsafe. Among them was an Iranian former police commander who said he fled the country after being accused of “disobedience” for refusing an order to shoot protesters.

He said that, because of Rwanda's close ties with Iran, he feared deportation was a one way ticket back to the country he fled.

In a tweet on Monday, the charity said: “Twenty people have had their Rwanda tickets cancelled but 11 still have live tickets for tomorrow.

“These include four Iranians, two Iraqis, two Albanians and one Syrian.

“We pray that the courts act today to stop this cruel and barbaric plan.”

On Sunday, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said the union is hopeful it can win its appeal and stop the first deportation flight

He told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme: “We hope we win tomorrow in the Court of Appeal to stop the flight (on Tuesday).

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“But, of course, the legality of these proposals will only be tested out at the full court hearing in July.

“We’re absolutely confident that in July, in line with what the UNHCR (UN Refugee Agency) said very graphically in court, we believe these proposals will be found to be unlawful.”

The first claim against the policy was brought by lawyers on behalf of some asylum seekers alongside PCS, as well as Care4Calais and Detention Action – who are challenging the policy on behalf of everyone affected.

However, Mr Justice Swift ruled against granting a temporary block to the policy until a full hearing next month, adding: “I do not consider that the balance of convivence favours the grant of the generic relief.”

Shortly after his ruling at the High Court, the judge granted the claimants permission to appeal.