It’s been less than 48 hours since the first flight intended to facilitate the government’s cruel plan to send sanctuary seekers to Rwanda was thwarted at the 11th hour.
Since the flight was announced and asylum seekers began to find themselves issued with removal directions, the JRS team have been working alongside many others around the clock to find ways to stop the flight and protect our refugee friends from this cruel and deeply dangerous plan. It’s been a rollercoaster for everyone, and most of all for those who were given removal directions.
Our detention outreach team have been supporting 8 refugee friends in this horrifying position, currently in detention, who’d been told they would be forced to go to Rwanda. We are also supporting several others given notices of intent – that is, told that they may well be sent to Rwanda, though not given removal directions for this particular flight.
What happened in the run-up to the flight?
Once the date was set, and removal directions had been issued, we sought to ensure refugee friends had solicitors who could represent and defend them in court, and that these solicitors were responsive and had all the relevant information. We worked closely with other charities to make sure that our friends had all possible support.
At the same time, there were several other avenues underway, which looked like they had the potential to halt the flight for everyone: legal challenges sought to put an injunction on the flight so that the legality of the plan could first be examined more fully, and a campaign to persuade airlines not to facilitate the flight was getting commitments from several airlines that appeared to be contenders.
There was much to fear, much to hope for, and the stakes for the human beings involved were very, very high. The proposed flight sent shockwaves through those detained. People held in detention often find strength in supporting each other, and so many were galvanised by the sheer horror of this flight – people in detention were offering support and solidarity to one another: the resilience they themselves showed – and continue to show – confirms our resolute resistance. Many protested in solidarity with those threatened with removal. The protests only ended when everyone was taken off the flight.
At different points as the flight approached, many were removed from it, as the sheer scale of the harm that could come to them if these 130 people were removed to Rwanda was laid out before the courts. This meant joy and relief – but they weren’t promised they wouldn’t be sent to Rwanda later, and many remain in detention.
What you can do: Write to your MP and urge them to publicly oppose the cruel and dangerous plan to forcibly send people seeking asylum to Rwanda.
Remaining with people
Throughout we sought to accompany our refugee friends in that present moment, to stand with them in their fear, pain, and hope. It was a struggle to sit with the powerlessness, anger and frustration that both our refugee friends and we experienced, albeit in different ways and to radically different degrees.
On Friday, the first legal challenge was rejected. This was deeply disappointing, but we knew that an appeal would be heard on this decision, and a ruling on a further decision, on Monday.
Think of those who spent the weekend, incarcerated in detention, terrified that they would be in a Rwandan prison within a week, but desperately hoping for a reprieve. By Monday night, both legal challenges had been rejected and, though numerous airlines had agreed not to facilitate the flight one, Privilege Style, was refusing to do so – and had a permit for a flight from London to Kigali at the right time.
All seemed lost. There were still 7 people on the flight.
Late on Tuesday night, the European Court of Human Rights, ruled that one of the remaining 7 intended passengers could not be made to fly at this point. Building on this, the other six were also able to challenge their removal, and the flight was cancelled. This truly was a reprieve for all the individuals involved.
Sophie Cartwright, JRS UK’s Senior Policy Officer, said:
“The cruelty of the government’s Rwanda plan has been evident in the terror of those who were told they would be on the flight. And beyond them, the prospect of this flight has traumatised entire communities, who are afraid for themselves and people they love. For many, it is hard to fathom why a country where they travelled for safety should treat anyone in this way. This plan is deeply inhuman. It must be abandoned.”
But sadly, the fight is not over. As we give thanks and prayers for one small victory, the government has vowed to continue its pursuit of what is, in essence, state-sponsored human trafficking. But if they will not give up, neither will we: we remain resolute in our resistance.
*The European Court of Human Rights seeks to ensure that signatories to the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) act in accordance with it. The ECHR was drafted in the aftermath of the Second World War.
To help support our refugee friends in detention, donate to our Refugee Friends Hardship Fund and help us continue to provide much needed support through our detention outreach work.