UK deportation decision to Rwanda appealed as prince sparks row
Opponents of the British government’s plan to deport migrants to Rwanda are preparing for an appeal court hearing on Monday amid political backlash following reports that Prince Charles privately called the policy of « appalling ».
A coalition of groups including immigration rights campaigners and civil servants unions will ask the London Court of Appeal to overturn a lower court ruling allowing the first deportation flight to go ahead as planned on Tuesday .
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative government announced plans in April to send undocumented migrants to Rwanda, where their claims for asylum in the East African country would be processed. If successful, these migrants would stay in Rwanda. Britain has paid Rwanda 120 million pounds ($158 million) in advance and will make additional payments depending on the number of people deported.
The scheme aims to discourage migrants from risking their lives crossing the English Channel in small boats after an increase in such journeys in the past two years. But human rights groups say the policy is illegal, inhumane and will only amplify the risks for migrants.
The debate filled the British media over the weekend after The Times of London reported that an unidentified person had heard Prince Charles voice his opposition to the policy « several times » in private conversations.
« He said he thought the government’s whole approach was appalling, » the newspaper quoted the source as saying.
Charles’ office, Clarence House, declined to comment on « anonymous private conversations », but stressed the prince remained « politically neutral ».
Charles’ comments are problematic as he is the heir to the throne and the British monarch is meant to stay above the political fray.
The reported conversations raise concerns about whether Charles can be a neutral monarch after a lifetime of speaking out on issues ranging from ocean plastic to architectural preservation. Charles, 73, has taken an increasingly central role in recent months as health problems have limited the activities of Queen Elizabeth II, his 96-year-old mother.
The comments sparked a storm in British newspapers, with the Daily Express warning the Prince of Wales: “Stay out of politics Charles! The Mail on Sunday said: ‘We won’t back down from Rwanda, Charles.
Johnson’s government shows no signs of changing course.
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis, who represented the government on Britain’s Sunday morning TV programmes, vigorously defended the plan, saying the UK government wanted to disrupt the business model for smugglers.
« The reality is that this is a policy that will pay off – to ensure modern slavery and these smugglers know their criminal ways will be destroyed, » he told Sky News.
More than 28,500 people entered Britain on small boats last year, up from 1,843 in 2019, according to government statistics. The risk of such crossings was highlighted on November 24, when 27 people died after their inflatable boat sank in waters between Britain and France.
The Interior Ministry, the agency that oversees border enforcement, launched its own defense of the policy on Sunday, posting comments from a Rwandan government spokesman on social media.
« This is about protecting and ensuring the well-being and development of migrants and Rwandans in Rwanda, » Rwandan spokeswoman Yolande Makolo said.
A High Court judge in London on Friday rejected a request by opponents of the plan to block British asylum flights to Rwanda until the court has ruled on the illegality of the scheme. The ruling allows the thefts to begin even as the wider legal challenge progresses.
That decision has been appealed to the Court of Appeal, which will hear the motion on Monday.
Government lawyer Mathew Gullick said Friday that 37 people were originally scheduled to be on Tuesday’s flight, but six had their deportation orders overturned. The government still intends to carry out the theft, he said.
The government has not provided details of those selected for deportation, but refugee groups say they include people fleeing Syria and Afghanistan.
Rwanda already hosts tens of thousands of refugees. Competition for land and resources contributed to ethnic and political tensions that culminated in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, in which more than 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and the moderate Hutus who tried to protect them were killed.
President Paul Kagame’s government has made significant economic progress since the genocide, but critics say it has come at the cost of heavy political repression.
The UN refugee agency has opposed Britain’s plans, saying it is an effort to export the country’s legal obligations to grant asylum to those seeking a safe haven.
“People fleeing war, conflict and persecution deserve compassion and empathy,” said Gillian Triggs, UNHCR Deputy High Commissioner for Protection. « They should not be traded like commodities and taken abroad for processing. »