Britain’s first Rwanda deportation flight grounded due to action in the courts and on the streets

Activists warn the Home Office ‘will work harder than ever to deport more people’

A WAVE of direct action, legal fights and a last minute intervention by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) prevented the British government from carrying out its first deportation of asylum seekers to Rwanda last night.

When The Civil Fleet last reported on the situation on Monday, there were just seven people with one-way tickets for the 10:30pm flight to the central African country. Twenty-five others had been taken off due to the actions of their lawyers.

Throughout the day yesterday, the seven tickets were gradually reduced to one, belonging to an Iraqi man in his 50s.

Then, around 7:30pm (UK time), the ECHR issued an urgent interim measure, meaning the Home Office could not forcibly ship him over 4,000 miles away.

The ECHR said the man could not be removed until three weeks after the legality of the Rwanda policy was ruled upon in the British courts, which is due to be heard in the High Court in July.

The ECHR has the power to pause the UK’s deportation flight because the latter is party to the European Convention on Human Rights. The court only carries out such orders in exceptional cases when applicants face a real risk of irreversible harm.

The court is not, as many British right-wing politicians and figures claimed today, an EU institution. Therefore, Britain’s departure from the European Union does not affect its commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights.

Outside the courts, activists from the campaign group Freedom from Torture staged a protest inside the Majorca headquarters of Privilege Style, the airline charted by the UK government to carry out its dirty work

In the afternoon, activists from Stop Deportations blockaded the exits of Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) near Heathrow Airport by laying on the road and locking their arms together.

Nine of the protesters were arrested by the police last night. But Stop Deportations announced this morning that all of them had been released from custody.

Protests were also carried out by detainees inside Colnbrook IRC and Ministry of Defence’s Boscombe Down airbase, where the flight was due to take off.

Activists met news of the cancellation of last night’s flight with a mixture of elation and trepidation.

“We did this together,” Freedom from Torture posted on social media last night.

“From protesters on the streets, to people chipping in, to legal cases, to [thousands] of emails and calls.

“We know the government won’t be giving up. So let’s give this everything we’ve got, starting now. Together we can win.”

Care4Calais said that though the ECHR move was a great relief, the fight against the Rwanda police is by no means over.

“In July we will go to court again for the court to decide whether the Rwanda policy itself is lawful,” Care4Calais said. “This will be an incredibly important decision for many refugees, and for the future of the UK.

“If the government truly wanted to stop people smugglers and save lives, they would give other refugees visas to cross the Channel in a similar way to Ukrainians. With these visas, refugees could then claim asylum on arrival in the UK.

“This would put people smugglers out of business overnight.

“Last night’s news was a life-saving reprieve for those seven men and their families. Five are victims of torture or trafficking. Two are married. One has extreme PTSD due to previous trauma. One has a son in Carlisle.

“They should never have been put through the hell of the last few days. We must remember that every single refugee is a victim of the worst things on this planet. They need our help and our compassion as human beings. Using them as political pawns is unforgivable.

“Our lawyers are working hard to get them released. But we know the government will work harder than ever to deport more people just like them.”


Top image shows Stop Deportations activists blockading the road in and out of Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre [Pic: Stop Deportations]

Published by Ben Cowles

Is a journalist and podcaster

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