LONDON – Opponents of the UK government’s plan to deport migrants to Rwanda are preparing for a hearing at an appeals court on Monday amid the political backlash after reports Prince Charles had privately called the policy “appalling”.
A coalition of groups including immigration rights advocates and public sector workers’ unions will ask the Court of Appeal in London to overturn a lower court ruling allowing the first deportation flight as planned on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative government announced plans in April to send some undocumented migrants to Rwanda, where their asylum claims would be processed in the east African country. If successful, these migrants would stay in Rwanda. Britain paid Rwanda £120 million ($158 million) upfront and will make additional payments based on the number of people deported.
The program aims to discourage migrants from risking their lives by crossing the English Channel in small boats after such trips have surged in the past two years. But human rights groups say the policy is illegal and inhumane and will only increase risks for migrants.
The debate filled British news media over the weekend after the Times of London reported that an unidentified person had overheard Prince Charles protesting the policy in private conversations “several times”.
“He said he found the whole government action appalling,” the newspaper quoted the source as saying.
Charles’ office, Clarence House, declined to comment on “anonymous private conversations” but stressed that the prince remains “politically neutral”.
The neutrality of the British royal family is being questioned
Charles’ comments are problematic because he is heir apparent and the British monarch is expected to remain 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 marine plastic to the preservation of architecture. Charles, 73, has taken an increasingly central role in recent months as health issues have restricted the activities of Queen Elizabeth II, his 96-year-old mother.
The comments sparked a firestorm in British newspapers, with the Daily Express warning the Prince of Wales: “Stay out of politics, Charles!” The Mail on Sunday said: “We will not back down on Rwanda, Charles.”
Johnson’s government shows no signs of changing course.
Northern Ireland Minister Brandon Lewis, who represented the government on Britain’s Sunday morning television programs, vigorously defended the plan, saying the UK government wants to turn the business model of people smugglers on its head.
“The reality is that this is a policy that will produce results – to ensure that modern slavery and these people smugglers know their criminal methods are being broken down,” he told Sky News.
According to government statistics, more than 28,500 people crossed into the UK on small boats last year, up from 1,843 in 2019. The risk of such crossings was highlighted on November 24 when 27 people died after their dinghy sank in the waters between Britain and France was.
The government is defending the policy as flights are expected to start on Tuesday
The Interior Ministry, the agency overseeing border enforcement, launched its own defense of the policy on Sunday, posting comments from a Rwandan government spokesman on social media.
“It is about protecting and ensuring the well-being and development of migrants and Rwandans in Rwanda,” said Rwanda spokeswoman Yolande Makolo.
A High Court judge in London on Friday rejected a request by opponents of the plan to block Britain’s asylum flights to Rwanda pending the court’s decision on whether the scheme is illegal. The decision allows flights to begin even as the broader legal challenge moves forward.
This decision has been appealed to the Court of Appeal, which will hear the petition on Monday.
Government lawyer Mathew Gullick said Friday that 37 people were originally supposed to be on Tuesday’s flight, but six had their deportation orders overturned. The government still intends to operate the flight, he said.
The government has not provided details on those selected for deportation, but refugee groups say they include people fleeing Syria and Afghanistan.
Rwanda is already hosting tens of thousands of refugees. Competition for land and resources contributed to ethnic and political tensions that culminated in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, which killed more than 800,000 ethnic Tutsi and moderate Hutus trying to protect them.
President Paul Kagame’s government has made significant economic gains since the genocide, but critics say it has come at the cost of heavy political repression.
The United Nations refugee agency has opposed Britain’s plans, saying it is an attempt 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 shipped abroad for processing.”
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