‘Fewer than 10 migrants’ on first Rwanda flight

Migrant flights to Rwanda are set to take off in June
Migrant flights to Rwanda are set to take off in June - Andrew Matthews/PA

Home Office officials fear the number of migrants deported on the first Rwanda flight could be in single figures because of legal challenges.

The concerns are believed to be behind moves to expand the flagship scheme to include all failed asylum seekers on top of the initial cohort of 5,700 migrants so far earmarked for deportation.

Hundreds of migrants have been detained in the past two weeks ready for the first flight scheduled for the end of June or beginning of July.

Lawyers are, however, preparing to mount legal challenges to individual migrants’ deportation under the Safety of Rwanda Act, even though the legislation was designed to restrict appeals.

A source close to the planning of the flights said: “We will do well to get to double figures on the first flight because of the attrition rate due to legal challenges.”

Migrants can bring legal claims if they can provide “compelling evidence relating specifically to the person’s particular circumstances” that Rwanda is not a safe country for them individually.

Legal challenges are expected to be based on articles two and three of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which protect the right to life and guard against torture.

Campaigners suggested migrants would be able to challenge the removals on the basis of potential harm to their mental and physical health and that those with a history of protest would also have a strong case.

The first flight scheduled to depart for Rwanda in 2022 had just seven migrants on board before it was blocked by European judges.

‘Deterrent is working’

The claim that the upcoming flight would have a small number of deportees on board is, however, disputed by official sources.

A Home Office spokesman said: “The deterrent within the Rwanda policy is simple and already showing signs of working. If you come to the UK illegally, and now if you are a failed asylum seeker with no right to be here, you will be removed. That was always the aim and is neither new nor rushed.”

He added: “We do not recognise these claims and they do not reflect our current operational planning. Detentions for those in line for removal are continuing and we are working at pace to get flights off the ground in July.”

One said: “It’s not about numbers on one plane but exactly as the Prime Minister laid out a regular rhythm of flights that just continue to remove people from the UK.”

The claims have emerged after James Cleverly, the Home Secretary, announced on Wednesday that all failed asylum seekers will now be eligible for enforced removal to Rwanda after a deal to extend the scheme to them was agreed between the UK and Rwanda.

This goes beyond the previous criteria of people who arrived in the UK illegally since January 2021 and is in addition to a voluntary scheme where failed asylum seekers are offered up to £3,000 to move there. One migrant is so far known to have taken up the offer.

Critics claimed it was evidence of desperation by the Home Office to boost their chances of securing sufficient numbers of migrants for the “drumbeat” of regular flights that the Prime Minister has pledged for the summer.

Legal sources suggested it could also reduce the likelihood of legal challenges as the Home Office could argue asylum claims had been fully tested unlike other migrants who have been barred from lodging claims under the legislation.