By Andrew MacAskill and Michael Holden
LONDON (Reuters) -Judges in London have thrown out last-ditch bids by human rights groups and campaigners to stop Britain sending its first flight of asylum seekers to Rwanda on Tuesday, a plan the United Nations’ refugee chief described as “catastrophic”.
As part of an initial 120-million-pound ($148 million) deal with Rwanda, Britain will send some migrants who arrived illegally by crossing the Channel in small boats from Europe.
Britain’s Conservative government says the deportation strategy will undermine people-smuggling networks and stem the flow of migrants risking their lives in Channel crossings.
Amid legal challenges, the number of people scheduled to leave on Tuesday’s plane, which charities said originally included people fleeing Afghanistan and Syria as well as Iran and Iraq, had now fallen to less than a dozen.
A High Court judge refused on Friday to grant a temporary injunction to block the flight, and on Monday three justices on the Court of Appeal upheld that decision.
Judge Rabinder Singh said they could not interfere with the original “clear and detailed” judgement, and refused permission for further appeal. A full hearing to determine the legality of the policy as a whole is due in July.
A second legal challenge at the High Court was also later rejected, with judge Jonathan Swift saying everyone on the flight had been given access to a lawyer to challenge their deportation.
Human rights group say the policy is inhumane and will put migrants at risk. The UNHCR has said Rwanda, whose own human rights record is under scrutiny, does not have the capacity to process the claims, and there is a risk some migrants could be returned to countries from which they had fled.
“We believe that this is all wrong…for so many different reasons,” U.N. High Commissioner For Refugees Filippo Grandi told reporters. “The precedent that this creates is catastrophic for a concept that needs to be shared like asylum.”
Initially, some 37 individuals were scheduled to be removed on the first flight, but the charity Care4Calais said that number has dwindled to just eight. Three more individuals will have their cases heard at the High Court on Tuesday morning.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson had earlier said the government was determined to press ahead with the policy despite the legal challenges and opposition, reportedly including from Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne.
“It’s very important that the criminal gangs who are putting people’s lives at risk in the Channel understand that their business model is going to be broken and is being broken by this government,” Johnson told LBC radio.
“They are selling people false hope and luring them into something that is extremely risky and criminal.”
The government said the deportation plan would deter the Channel crossings, although more than 3,500 people have reached Britain in small boats since the middle of April when the Rwanda scheme was unveiled, according to government figures
As the court hearings were taking place, about 35 migrants arrived in Dover, some carrying their possessions in black bags, where they were taken away by British border forces.
($1 = 0.8121 pounds)
(Additional reporting by Emma Farge and Cecile Mantovani in Geneva; Editing by William Maclean, Mark Porter and Mark Heinrich)