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U.K.'s 1st planned asylum seeker deportation flight grounded by European court

UK deportation flight to Rwanda canceled
UK deportation flight to Rwanda canceled amid legal battles 03:35

London — The first scheduled flight to deport people seeking asylum  in the U.K. to Rwanda was canceled at the last minute Tuesday night after a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights. The court ruled that one Iraqi man scheduled to be on the flight, referred to as KN, would face "a real risk of irreversible harm" if sent to the African nation.

In April, the U.K. announced a plan to deport asylum seekers who enter the country using "irregular" routes, such as on small boats or in the backs of trucks, to Rwanda. The government said it wanted the plan to serve as a deterrent to people smugglers who traffic humans into the U.K., but the announcement drew outrage from rights groups that said the policy was cruel and undermined the global refugee system.  

After a series of legal arguments in U.K. courts, the British government initially got the go-ahead to start flying asylum-seekers to Rwanda on Tuesday. The first flight, chartered by the government at a cost of about $600,000, was scheduled to take off at 10:30 p.m. local time.

A Boeing 767 sits on the runway at the military base in Amesbury, England, June 14, 2022, preparing to take a number of asylum-seekers to Rwanda. JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty

The European Court of Human Rights issued its ruling at 7:30 p.m.  In it, the court said no one should be deported to Rwanda until the United Kingdom's own high court issues a ruling on the legality of the government's policy. That decision is expected next month. 

The European court said there was no legally enforceable way to ensure the Iraqi man could be returned to the U.K. if the appeal of his deportation eventually succeeds. It also noted that the U.K. high court had acknowledged there were potential serious issues with the assessment of Rwanda as a safe third country. 

Despite leaving the European Union, the U.K. is still a party to the European Convention on Human Rights, meaning U.K. cases can still be heard by the European Court of Human Rights. 

A protester holds a 'Stop Rwanda flight' placard during the
A protester holds a "Stop Rwanda flight" placard during a demonstration outside the U.K. Home Office against a plan to send asylum-seekers to Rwanda. Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Tuesday that it "very well may be" necessary for Britain to change its law.

When his government announced the plans for the U.K.-Rwanda program, the United Nations refugee agency told the BBC that it "strongly condemns outsourcing the primary responsibility to consider the refugee status," and said the policy would be "an egregious breach of international law and refugee law."

Home Secretary Priti Patel, who orchestrated the policy, said she was "disappointed" by the ruling, but that the "preparation for the next flight begins now."

"Rwanda stands ready to receive the migrants when they do arrive and offer them safety and opportunity in our country," a spokesman for the Rwandan government said.

Migrant Crisis
The Hope Hostel accommodation in Kigali, Rwanda where migrants from the U.K. are expected to be taken when they arrive is seen on June 14, 2022. Victoria Jones/PA Images/Getty
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