Britain's Rwanda deportation flights grounded over political killings warning

Court documents reveal Britain’s deportation plan to fly asylum-seekers back to Rwanda was canceled in June after government officials were warned about human rights violations, including torture and killings. File photo from Andy Rain/EPA-EFE.

Aug. 16 (UPI) — The first flight to take asylum-seekers from Britain back to Rwanda was canceled in June after UK ministers were warned about human rights violations by Rwanda’s government, including torture and killings, according to documents released Tuesday in Britain’s high court.

The court is considering an application by a foreign office official to keep parts of the documents sealed over national security concerns, as several media outlets and some migrants argue the 10 comments are in the public interest.

According to the unnamed official, a public document on Rwanda and its human rights record was being updated as the flights were being planned. The official claimed Rwanda’s updated “Country Policy and Information Note” said migrants would be “entitled to full protection under Rwandan law, equal access to employment and enrollment in healthcare and social care services.”

The document was questioned after one reviewer grew skeptical over whether it gave an accurate depiction in the country.

“There are state control, security, surveillance structures from the national level down… political opposition is not tolerated and arbitrary detention, torture and even killings are accepted methods of enforcing control too,” the official wrote in a covering email, according the High Court judge Lord Justice Lewis.

Jude Bunting QC argued Tuesday for the media organizations that want the information released.

“The public needs to understand the material that was available to the government at the time the decisions under challenge were taken, the evidence that is said to weigh against, as well as to justify, this flagship policy and the reasons why the government decided to proceed,” Bunting said.

A decision on whether the documents will be released could come as early as Wednesday.

The first deportation flight bound for Rwanda, carrying asylum seekers who entered Britain illegally, did not take off as scheduled June 14 after a last-minute intervention by the European Court of Human Rights.

The flights would carry migrants who arrived in Britain, by what the government considers “illegal, dangerous or unnecessary” routes, back to Rwanda where they could claim asylum. So far this year, more than 13,000 asylum-seekers have crossed the English Channel in small boats from France.

A number of groups have criticized the flights claiming they are cruel. A full court hearing into the legality of Britain’s deportation plan is scheduled for Sept. 5.

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