A group of asylum-seekers requested a U.K. court on Friday to prevent the British government from sending them on a one-way flight to Rwanda, arguing that the controversial plan is not safe.
The four claimants, backed by refugee groups and a U.K. border staff trade union, are asking a judge to ground a flight scheduled for Tuesday, the first due to leave under a deal between the U.K. and the East African country.
They are among an unspecified number of migrants who have been told by the British government that they will be deported to Rwanda.
Refugee groups say the wider group includes people fleeing Syria and Afghanistan who arrived in Britain across the English Channel on small boats.
At the hearing which opened at a High Court in London on Friday, government lawyer Mathew Gullick said 37 people are due to be on board Tuesday’s flight, but that six had had their deportation orders cancelled. He said the government still intended to operate the flight, as well as future ones.
Under a deal announced in April, Britain plans to send migrants who arrive in the U.K. as stowaways or in small boats on a one-way trip to Rwanda. There, the migrants’ asylum claims will be processed, and if successful, they will stay in the African country.
U.N. officials say such a move violates the international Refugee Convention. Human rights groups call the deal for which the U.K. has paid Rwanda 120 million pounds ($158 million) upfront unworkable, inhumane and a waste of British taxpayers’ money.
The claimants’ lawyer Raza Husain said “the system is not safe.”
Laura Dubinsky, a lawyer representing the U.N. refugee agency, said refugees sent to Rwanda under the program were at risk of “serious, irreparable harm.” She said the agency had “serious concerns about Rwandan capacity” to handle the arrivals.
The British government argues the policy is in the public interest. It is seeking to distinguish between refugees who arrive by authorized routes, such as programs to help people fleeing Afghanistan or Ukraine, and those it says arrive by illegal means, including dangerous Channel crossings run by smugglers.
The government says it welcomes refugees who come to Britain by approved routes but wants to put criminal smuggling gangs out of business.
More than 28,000 migrants entered the U.K. across the Channel last year, up from 8,500 in 2020.