DANICA KIRK, Associated Press
LONDON (AP) – Opponents of the British government’s plan to deport migrants to Rwanda are preparing for an appeals court hearing on Monday amid political backlash after reports that Prince Charles privately called the policy “terrible”.
A coalition of groups including immigration rights advocates and civil servants unions will ask the London Court of Appeal to overturn a lower court ruling allowing the first deportation flight to proceed as scheduled on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative government in April announced plans to send some undocumented migrants to Rwanda, where their applications for asylum in the East African country will be considered. If successful, these migrants will remain in Rwanda. The UK has paid Rwanda £120m (US$158m) upfront and will make further payments based on the number of people deported.
The program aims to discourage migrants from risking their lives crossing the English Channel in small boats after a surge in such travel over the past two years. But rights groups say the policy is illegal, inhumane and will only increase risks for migrants.
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The debate filled the British media over the weekend after the London Times reported that an unidentified person heard Prince Charles express disagreement with the policy in private conversations on several occasions.
“He said he found the government’s overall approach appalling,” the source quoted the newspaper as saying.
Charles’ office, Clarence House, declined to comment on “anonymous private conversations” but stressed that the prince remains “politically neutral”.
Charles’ comments are problematic because he is the heir to the throne and the British monarch must stay above the political fray.
Reported conversations raise concerns about whether Charles can be a neutral monarch after speaking out all his life on issues ranging from ocean plastic to architectural preservation. Charles, 73, has taken on an increasingly important role in recent months as health concerns limit the activities of Queen Elizabeth II, his 96-year-old mother.
The comments caused a storm 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.”
The Johnson government shows no signs of changing course.
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis, who represented the government on British Sunday morning television programmes, strongly defended the plan, saying the British government wanted to reverse the smuggling business model.
“The reality is that this is a policy that will be implemented to ensure that modern slavery and these smugglers know that their criminal methods will be broken,” he told Sky News.
More than 28,500 people arrived in the UK in small boats last year, compared to 1,843 in 2019, according to government statistics. The risk of such crossings became clear on 24 November when 27 people died after their inflatable boat sank in the waters between Britain and France.
The Ministry of the Interior, the agency that enforces the borders, defended the policy on Sunday, posting comments by a Rwandan government spokesman on social media.
“This is about protecting and ensuring the well-being and development of both migrants and Rwandans in Rwanda,” Rwandan spokeswoman Yolanda Makolo said.
A High Court judge in London on Friday rejected a request by opponents of the plan to block flights of British refugees to Rwanda until a court decides whether the program is illegal. The solution allows flights to begin even as broader legal proceedings move forward.
This decision has been appealed to the Court of Appeal, which will consider the petition on Monday.
Government lawyer Matthew Gallick said on Friday that 37 people were originally supposed to be on board Tuesday’s flight, but deportation orders for six people were lifted. According to him, the government still intends to operate the flight.
The government did not provide details about those selected for deportation, but refugee groups say they include people fleeing Syria and Afghanistan.
Rwanda is already home to tens of thousands of refugees. Competition for land and resources contributed to ethnic and political tensions that culminated in the Rwandan genocide in 1994, in which more than 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutu were killed who tried to protect them.
President Paul Kagame’s government has made significant economic progress since the genocide, but critics say it came at the expense of harsh political repression.
The United Nations Refugee Agency has spoken out against the UK’s plans, saying it is an attempt to export the country’s legal obligation to provide asylum to asylum seekers.
“People fleeing war, conflict and persecution deserve compassion and empathy,” said Gillian Triggs, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection. “They should not be sold as goods and taken abroad for processing.”
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