Deportation flights grounded as UK’s Rwanda plan ruled unlawful

A Privilege Style charter jet taxiing.
Anna Zvereva from Tallinn, Estonia, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
Len Varley - Assistant Editor 5 Min Read
5 Min Read

The UK government’s plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda has been found unlawful by the Court of Appeal. By extension, this also means that any deportation flights that may have been scheduled will not be able to go ahead.

The court ruled that the plan was unlawful because it was not compatible with the UK’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

Specifically, the court found that the plan would expose asylum seekers to a real risk of inhuman and degrading treatment in Rwanda.

Following the ruling, the UK government said that it enter an appeal of the decision in the Supreme Court.

If the Supreme Court does not hear the case, the plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda will be effectively dead in the water.

The issue of deportation flights

Deportation flights remain a controversial topic, with human rights groups arguing that they are inhumane and often violate the rights of the people being deported.

In recent years, there has been a growing trend of countries using deportation flights to remove asylum seekers and other undocumented migrants.


In recent years, Australia, Denmark, and Israel number amongst the nations that have used deportation flights to remove asylum seekers and non-citizens.

One of the most recent high-profile examples of a deportation flight has been the UK government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda. The scheme was announced in April 2022 and was met with widespread criticism from human rights groups.

First failed UK deportation flight attempt

Since the inception of the plan, only one deportation flight has got close to a departure for Rwanda.

In June 2022, a Privilege Style aircraft operating as the first flight carrying refugees to Rwanda was grounded following an 11th hour ruling by the European Court of Human Rights before it could take off.

Privilege Style aircraft involved engaged in deportation flights.
Photo Credit: Harrison Rowe/AviationSource

In October 2022, Privilege Style subsequently announced that it would not conduct any deportation flights on behalf of the UK government, following sustained pressure by NGO’s and the general public.

Notably, the resistance and the growing sense of public interest in the situation has resulted in many such airlines and air operators refusing to carry deportees or undertake lucrative government contracts to provide regular deportation flights.

Freedom from Torture hold protest banners in front of the offices of Spanish airline Privilege Style.
Photo Credit: Freedom from Torture

For many air operators, it seems to have been a case of weighing the public backlash and the possibility of reputational damage in their decisions to decline the carriage of immigration deportees.

For some others, it has been a decision based on moral compass.

The situation as it stands

The UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, previously claimed that the Rwanda plan was “contrary to the letter and spirit of the Refugee Convention” and that it “puts people at risk of serious human rights violations.”

It does appear as though today’s findings by the UK Court of Appeals has upheld that viewpoint.

To date, the UK government has maintained a stance of defending the plan, arguing that it is necessary to deter people from making dangerous journeys across the English Channel.

Following today’s court ruling, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak issued a statement, noting the finding but expressing his firm disagreement. Just days earlier, the UK Home Office conceded that the Rwanda scheme may not stop Channel crossings of save public money.

After today’s Court of Appeal ruling, the government has the option of challenging the finding in the Supreme Court.

UK government to appeal decision

By late afternoon UK time, the government stated that it will seek to appeal today’s decision by the Court of Appeal. It will be up to the Supreme Court as to whether they will hear the appeal to overturn today’s decision.

Therefore, as it stands today, the Rwanda scheme and the plan for ongoing deportation flights is to all intents and purposes grounded until the Supreme Court action proceeds.

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