UK starts detaining asylum seekers to be deported to Rwanda

Government expects to deport 5,700 migrants and asylum seekers to Rwanda this year, but rights groups ready to mount new legal challenge.

British authorities have started detaining asylum seekers as part of a new scheme to deport them to Rwanda, the government said, with the first flights expected to take off as early as July.

“Our dedicated enforcement teams are working at pace to swiftly detain those who have no right to be here so we can get flights off the ground,” said Home Secretary James Cleverly on Wednesday.

Confirmation of the round-ups came a week after legislators passed a contentious law declaring Rwanda to be a safe third country, bypassing an earlier UK Supreme Court ruling that had declared the scheme unlawful on human rights grounds.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who has promised to stop migrants and asylum seekers arriving on small boats from mainland Europe, had declared last week that the government would begin detaining people promptly before deportation flights start within “10 to 12 weeks“.

Calling it “another major milestone” in the Rwanda plan, the UK’s Home Office released photographs and a video of immigration enforcement officers detaining several people with handcuffs at different residences.

“This government has lost it’s last ounce of humanity,” the charity, Freedom from Torture, posted on social media on Wednesday.

A senior minister revealed on Tuesday that the government expects to deport 5,700 people this year, after it was confirmed that Rwanda had “in principle” agreed to accept that number.

However, the authorities have lost contact with thousands of potential deportees, with only 2,143 “located for detention”. More than 3,500 are currently unaccounted for.

Ministers have insisted enforcement teams will find them. Commercial charter planes have already been booked and an airport has been put on standby.

Challenges ahead

More than 7,500 people have arrived in the country on small boats from France so far this year, and the government says the policy will deter people from making the dangerous journey across the English Channel.

Mindful of the Supreme Court ruling, issued last November, human rights groups and unions opposed to the policy are expected to launch new legal challenges to stop the flights from taking off.

“People are very frightened,” said Natasha Tsangarides, associate director of advocacy at Freedom from Torture, saying the fear of being detained and sent to Rwanda would push some people to go underground and disengage from their support system.

Rwanda, home to 13 million people in Africa’s Great Lakes region, lays claim to being one of the most stable countries on the continent and has drawn praise for its modern infrastructure. But rights groups accuse veteran President Paul Kagame of ruling in a climate of fear, stifling dissent and free speech.

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