Loading...

Rwanda asylum seekers deal: Prince Charles calls plan ‘appalling’ as campaigners lose fight to halt flights

The Prince of Wales privately criticised the Government’s plan to send migrants to Rwanda, according to reports

Prince Charles is said to be “more than disappointed” by the Government’s policy to send migrants to Rwanda, with reports that he privately described the move as “appalling”.

The Times reported that the Prince of Wales is especially frustrated at the policy as he is set to represent the Queen at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in the Rwandan capital later this month.

Sign up to our NationalWorld Today newsletter

It comes after Home Secretary Priti Patel welcomed a High Court ruling paving the way for the first flight to the east African country to go ahead on Tuesday.

The Home Office was twice warned its plan to send refugees to Rwanda was “not safe”, lawyers told the High Court.

Ms Patel announced the highly controversial arrangement of sending migrants on a one-way ticket to the east African nation in April, and was met with a wave of criticism from campaigners and charities.

Lawyers for almost 100 migrants had submitted legal challenges against the plan.

Migrants arrive at Dover Port after being picked up by border force on April 16, 2022 (Getty Images

What did Prince Charles say?

The Times newspaper said a source had heard Charles express opposition to the policy several times in private, and that he was “more than disappointed” by it.

They were cited as saying: “He said he thinks the Government’s whole approach is appalling. It was clear he was not impressed with the Government’s direction of travel.”

Clarence House refused to comment on “supposed anonymous private conversations” with the prince, but stressed that he remains “politically neutral”.

Charles has been criticised in the past for his views on topics such as the environment and architecture, but said he recognises being heir to the throne and head of state are two different roles.

What is the Rwanda plan?

In an effort to curb dangerous Channel crossings, Ms Patel announced in April that asylum seekers could be sent to Rwanda if they entered the UK illegally.

At the time she said this marks the “first stage of the process” and that “it will take some time” due to legal challenges, but stressed she would press ahead with the plans.

Guidance published by the Home Office stated that Rwanda is “a safe country to relocate people to”, although an assessment carried out before the UK-Rwanda agreement found “some concerns with its human rights record around political opposition to the current regime, dissent and free speech”.

A security officer passes in front of the Desir Resort hotel in Kigali, Rwanda, which is preparing to house migrants.

The Home Office said it would carry out a case-by-case risk assessment when determining someone’s eligibility for relocation and take any vulnerabilities, including disabilities, sexual orientation and gender reassignment status, into account.

Unaccompanied under-18s arriving in the UK would not be considered for relocation to Rwanda.

However, campaigners and experts questioned the legality of the deal. Gillian Triggs, an assistant secretary-general at the UNHCR, said the plan was both a breach of international law and “unacceptable”.

Up to 130 people have been notified they could be removed as part of the Rwanda scheme, with 31 people due on the first flight on Tuesday, with the Home Office planning to schedule more this year.

Priti Patel and Rwandan Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Vincent Biruta, shake hands after signing an agreement at Kigali Convention Center, Kigali, Rwanda on April 14, 2022 (AFP via Getty Images)

What is the legal challenge?

Lawyers for almost 100 migrants submitted legal challenges asking to stay in the UK with the remaining anticipated to follow suit.

On Friday (10 June), the first stage of action began, brought by lawyers on behalf of two migrants alongside the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS), which represents more than 80% of Border Force staff, as well as groups Care4Calais and Detention Action who are challenging the policy on behalf of everyone affected.

Raza Husain QC, for the claimants, told the High Court: “The system is not safe. It is not that it is not safe after July, it is just not safe.

“You may be arbitrarily denied access to it. If you do get into it, there are concerns about the impartiality of the decision-making.”

He continued: “The evidence is that if you are not from a neighbouring country, then there are high levels of rejection.”

Mr Husain said this included asylum seekers from Syria, who are largely accepted by the UK system.

“The procedure is simply unsafe,” he added.

However, Judge Mr Justice Swift ruled against the claim and said: “I do not consider that the balance of convivence favours the grant of the generic relief.”

A group of migrants disembark from a UK Border Force boat at the port of Dover having being picked up crossing the English Channel from France.

Is it legal?

Laura Dubinsky QC for UNHCR, which is intervening in the claim, said there had been “inaccuracies” in the way the agency’s views had been described by the Home Office.

She told the court that the agency is concerned about the risk of “serious, irreparable harm” caused to refugees sent to Rwanda, adding the body “in no way endorses the UK-Rwandan arrangement”.

“UNHCR is not involved in the UK-Rwanda arrangement, despite assertions to the contrary made by the Secretary of State,” she later said.

Ms Dubinsky said the agency had “serious concerns about Rwandan capacity”, adding: “UNHCR itself is not in a position to rectify those deficiencies.

“The problems described are deep-rooted structural problems, they are not capable of speedy resolution,” the barrister continued.

She also told the High Court in London that UNHCR has had “a number of meetings” with the Home Office and has said they believe the policy is unlawful.

What was the Government responded?

In written submissions, Home Office lawyers urged the court to reject the application, arguing that it “fails at the first stage”, adding: “The claimants have not identified a serious issue to be tried, still less the strong case they allege for the grant of relief at trial.”

In the court documents, Rory Dunlop QC and Mathew Gullick QC, for the department, said: “The application for interim relief should be dismissed. In the alternative, any order for interim relief should be limited.”

They said there was a “strong public interest in permitting these removals to proceed as scheduled” and a “clear public interest in deterring the making of dangerous journeys and the activities of criminal smugglers”.

The papers also disclose the Home Office has already cancelled removal directions for three people who had asked the High Court to prevent their deportation to Rwanda. In the hearing, it emerged two more people will also have them cancelled.

The claim and application runs to “many hundreds of pages”, the Home Office lawyers said, as they suggested there had been delays in serving the papers, arguing: “Given the volume of material that has now been served, this delay has prejudiced the defendants’ ability to respond to the interim relief application.”

They also cited “procedural issues” over the way in which the claim has been made.

What happens next?

Judge Mr Justice Swift said the final hearing in the case will be heard in July.

The Home Office has said it expected legal challenges but is “determined to deliver this new partnership” and insisted the policy “fully complies with international and national law” while Downing Street said Boris Johnson remains confident the policy is legal.

The High Court is due to hear a further challenge to the policy on Monday, brought by refugee charity Asylum Aid and supported by fellow campaign group Freedom From Torture.