MANCHESTER, United Kingdom — A Catholic group working with Britain’s illegal immigrants said a court ruling blocking their deportation to Rwanda was a “small victory.”
Jesuit Refugee Service in London said in a June 16 statement that it had been working “around the clock to find ways to stop the flight and protect our refugee friends from this cruel and deeply dangerous plan.”
It said its detention outreach team had been supporting eight “refugee friends” in the “horrifying position” of being flown 4,000 miles for processing in the African country. Their deportations were placed on hold following a June 14 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that such flights were unlawful. The ruling remains in effect until a judicial review of UK law is heard at the High Court in London in July.
The controversial plan, introduced through the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, involves a 120 million-British pound deal with Rwanda to process the applications of single men who arrive illegally by small boats on UK shores.
So far in 2022, more than 11,000 illegal immigrants have crossed the English Channel from France — a safe country — to the UK in search of a better life; almost 600 arrived in small boats in two days in mid-June.
The British government is unable to prevent the flow of migrants and hopes the Rwanda plan will act as a deterrent to those seeking to enter the UK unlawfully.
But human rights lawyers and social justice groups lodged legal appeals against the first scheduled flight, quickly reducing the 130 people on board to just seven before the European court finally forced the flight’s cancellation.
The court seeks to ensure that signatories to the European Convention of Human Rights, such as the UK, act in accordance with it.
Sophie Cartwright, senior policy officer of the JRS UK, 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.”
“The prospect of this flight has traumatized entire communities, who are afraid for themselves and people they love,” she said in a June 16 statement posted on the JRS website. “This plan is deeply inhuman. It must be abandoned.”
The Catholic bishops of England and Wales, who have repeatedly raised reservations about the plan, criticized it again on the eve of the canceled first flight.
Auxiliary Bishop Paul McAleenan of Westminster, the lead bishop for migration issues, said in a June 13 statement that the plan would “compound the suffering” of people who are already victims of human trafficking.
“Crime is defeated by confronting the perpetrators, not by punishing victims,” he said. “This scheme will increase the difficulties of those hoping for a new beginning, and it does nothing to address the problems which cause people to flee their homes.
“With greater force, we insist that asylum-seekers are not commodities for profit, nor are they problems to be rejected and deported by government.”
In 2021 more than 30,000 migrants entered England illegally by crossing the English Channel, but others have died trying, with 27 drowning on one occasion in November.
In spite of opposition to the government’s plan from church leaders, many lay Catholics were in sympathy with it, and the public broadly supports policies to regain full control of national borders.
Gavin Ashenden, a former Anglican chaplain to the queen who became a Catholic in 2019, said the channel migrants were not refugees.
“It’s not clear how anyone traveling from France to the U.K. can claim to be in fear of life and liberty,” he wrote in the London-based Catholic Herald.
“France and the European mainland are safe and generous havens. The crossing of the channel must, to some degree, be a financial decision. And it’s one that reflects the astonishingly generous government commitment to offer housing and income to almost anyone who turns up on its shores.”
“The asylum system is so chaotic and dysfunctional that it is well known to economic migrants the world over that almost no one is deported from Britain,” he said in a June 16 article.
“That’s the reason for the unstoppable flow. That’s the foundation the people traffickers build their obscene evil empire on,” he added.