Britain last Tuesday said it intends to fly a first planeload of asylum-seekers to Rwanda on June 14, under a new pact that has drawn threats of legal challenges from angry campaigners.
The one-way flights are intended to offer would-be refugees a new life in Rwanda and so deter others from entering Britain, especially via perilous boat crossings of the Channel from France.
Confirming the target date for the first time, Home Secretary Priti Patel, acknowledged the new policy is set to face challenges in the courts.
But in a statement, she said, “I will not be deterred and remain fully committed to delivering what the British public expects.”
Patel said the agreement was “a key part of our strategy to overhaul the broken asylum system and break the evil people-smugglers’ business model”.
The Home Office said it had sent out the first notices to asylum claimants who are earmarked for removal to Rwanda, under a partnership worth £120 million ($151 million, 141 million euros) to Kigali.
“Once in Rwanda, there is a generous support package, including up to five years of training, accommodation, and healthcare on arrival,” it said.
But activists accuse President Paul Kagame’s government of crushing dissent and keeping an iron grip on power, and say the UK government altered its own guidance on his rights record to justify the plan.
The issue could stalk Prime Minister Boris Johnson when he attends a Commonwealth summit in Kigali a week after the first flight is due to land, unless UK courts block it first.
One group threatening legal action is Detention Action, which noted that the June 14 date had been announced in the week that Britain celebrates 70 years since Queen Elizabeth II ascended the throne.
“What a way to mark the Platinum Jubilee weekend, by telling torture and slavery survivors who have travelled thousands of miles to reach safety that they will be expelled to an oppressive dictatorship,” it said.
Johnson has said “tens of thousands” of people could be flown to Rwanda under the agreement. But The Times newspaper reported that Home Office modelling indicated that only 300 a year could be sent there.