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Protesters challenge government asylum policy ahead of first deportation flight to Rwanda

Protesters have gathered outside the Rwanda High Commission in London to call for the deportation of asylum seekers to the Commonwealth country to be stopped ahead of the first flight next week.

Asylum seekers from Sudan and Syria are among 130 people on the first deportation flight, which is due to leave the UK on Tuesday, June 14. Rwanda is more than 4,000 miles away in east Africa.

Some 50 people protested outside Rwanda House on Wednesday, chanting “here to stay, here to fight, refugees have the right” and “Priti Patel, hear us say, refugees are here to stay”.

Further protests are planned before the flight’s departure, with a solidarity demonstration at Brook House detention centre on Sunday and a protest outside the Home Office at 5:30pm on Monday.

Anna Pichierri, a protest organiser with Movement for Justice, told The Big Issue: “The reason why we are here is that this is just the beginning of this fight. This deal can be stopped, but it means people taking action.

“This is the beginning, we are not going to stop here. Many people are living in hotels to defend themselves because they know what it would mean.”

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Asylum seekers were told on June 1 that they would be deported to Rwanda, with a notice saying: “This is NOT an appealable decision”.

Lawyers for around 80 of the 130 detainees have submitted legal challenges, the Mail has reported.

A deportation flight to Jamaica last month left with just seven of the 112 passengers listed on the flight as Conservative MPs blamed “the intervention of lefty, woke human rights immigration lawyers”.

But the Home Office was sharply criticised in the wake of that flight, with Labour MP Clive Efford asking in parliament: “Does that not just point to the incompetence and the problem we have with this Government? How did they get to be on that manifest when they were not ready to be deported?”

The government also had to cancel a planned deportation flight to Iraq, with the Guardian reporting that safety concerns contributed to the decision. Contractors involved with the flight had to undergo kidnap training, while deportees said they feared for their lives.

Similar concerns have been raised over the planned Rwandan deportations. Some asylum seekers have no connection to the country they are being sent to.

Rwanda deportation protest
The first deportation flights to Rwanda leave on June 14 2022. Image: Greg Barradale / The Big Issue

While the Home Office describes Rwanda as a “safe and stable” country, the country’s opposition leader said: “Everybody knows that we have a dictatorship in Rwanda. That is not a secret.”

Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, who served eight years in prison after challenging president Paul Kagame, told the Times: “It is unacceptable that a democratic country sends refugees to a non-democratic country.”

Ahead of the demonstration, campaigners warned the programme is “another Windrush scandal in the making”.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Rwanda is a safe and stable country, which has been recognised globally for their record in welcoming and integrating migrants and asylum seekers. It will be able to offer a home, stability, and a future for those in need.

“Last year, the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) and the EU worked with Rwanda to resettle refugees from Libya there – the UNHCR praised the Rwandan Government for offering a welcoming and safe environment to vulnerable people around the world.

“We are fully committed to working with Rwanda to offer safety to those seeking asylum and ultimately save lives through this innovative, ambitious partnership.”

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