UK’s deportation plan attacks ‘basic dignity,’ lawyers say

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LONDON — The British government’s plan to deport asylum-seekers to Rwanda undermines the “basic dignity” of people who are escaping war and oppression, a lawyer argued Monday during an appeals court hearing aimed at blocking implementation of the policy.

The Court of Appeal in London is hearing an appeal filed by a coalition of groups including immigration rights advocates and public employee unions. They are seeking to overturn a lower court ruling that would allow the first deportation flight to take off as scheduled on Tuesday.

Separately, activists are challenging the deportations on a person-by-person basis, seeking to ensure that no migrants will be eligible for deportation even if the flights are allowed to go ahead.

Raza Husain, a lawyer for the migrants, said the lower court’s decision not to issue an injunction against the deportations “cannot rationally be sustained” because of concerns about the protection of migrant rights in Rwanda. As a result, there is a significant chance the policy will ultimately be blocked by the courts, exposing the government to claims for damages from anyone wrongly deported, Husain said in documents filed with the court.

Husain argued that the government’s plan involves the forced removal of asylum-seekers to a country they don’t want to travel to as part of a policy intended to deter others from trying to enter Britain.

“This amounts, on any view, to a serious interference with basic dignity … where those individuals have already suffered significant trauma and have mental health issues,” he said in the court filings.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative government in April announced plans to send some undocumented migrants to Rwanda. Migrants deported under the program would be forced to apply for asylum in Rwanda, not the U.K. Britain paid Rwanda 120 million pounds ($158 million) up front and will make additional payments based on the number of people deported.

The program is aimed at discouraging migrants from risking their lives by crossing the English Channel in small boats after a surge in such journeys over the past two years. But human rights groups say the policy is illegal, inhumane and will only magnify the risks for migrants.