Britain Prepares to Send Asylum Seekers to Rwanda

LONDON — A British government plan to send some asylum seekers to Rwanda led to another day of legal wrangling on Tuesday, as a small number of them waited to hear if they would be aboard a jet bound for Africa later in the day.

Originally, dozens of people who had arrived in Britain from France were scheduled to be on the flight that is expected to leave on Tuesday night, though that number is thought to have been whittled down to around seven by legal challenges.

Several of those cases were being heard on Tuesday, raising the prospect that the passenger list could dwindle further. But the government still says that it wants the plane to take off even with only a handful on board, despite the cost estimated by the British news media at as much as 500,000 pounds, or about $600,000, and in spite of protests including from church leaders.

The arrival of a small but steady number of asylum seekers on boats from France has been a growing political problem for Prime Minister Boris Johnson who, in 2016, led the campaign for Britain to leave the European Union, arguing that it would allow the country to “take back control” of its borders.

Relations with the French government have been tense after Brexit. And, with limited cooperation with the French authorities, Mr. Johnson’s government has searched for other ways to curb the arrivals that have became an embarrassing symbol of Britain’s failure to police its post-Brexit frontiers.

In April, Mr. Johnson looked at a drone used for surveillance and rescue of migrants in the Channel. At least 27 people died last year trying to make the journey.Credit…Matt Dunham/Agence France-Presse, via Pool/Afp Via Getty Images

The British government announced in April that it had reached a deal with Rwanda that would allow the processing and settling of asylum seekers in the African country. In return, Britain would pay Rwanda 120 million pounds for economic development programs.

The deal has provoked fierce opposition in Britain for being unworkable and unethical, including from religious figures, civil servants and — according to the Times of London — from Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne.

Critics accuse Mr. Johnson, who narrowly survived a vote of no confidence last week, of deliberately stoking the issue for political advantage. They argue that even if very few asylum seekers are deported, the policy is intended to send a signal to voters that Britain is tough on those seeking to enter Britain by crossing the English Channel, many of them in small boats.

Liz Truss, Britain’s foreign secretary, told the LBC radio station that the flights should be seen in the larger context of illegal migration and of criminal gangs making money from bringing migrants into Britain.

The government, Ms. Truss said, needed to ensure “that if they are not on today’s flight, they are on subsequent flights. But fundamentally, we need to break the business model, and that is why we have to take this action.”

The debate over the Rwanda asylum plan comes at a time when immigration into Britain from non-European Union countries continues to rise.

Protesters outside the Home Office in London on Monday. A court refused two appeals Monday, clearing the way for Britain to begin carrying out the contentious plan.Credit…Andy Rain/EPA, via Shutterstock

Critics of the government say that British policy effectively criminalizes those who are trying to claim asylum, making it impossible for most genuine refugees to enter the country legally.

Last year, at least 27 people drowned while trying to make the dangerous journey across the English Channel, one of the world’s busiest shipping routes — and even that tragedy failed to deter more from trying to enter Britain on small boats.

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