Rwanda deportation flights lawful, but which airline will get its hands dirty?

A US ICE Air deportation flight.
US ICE Air deportation flight. Photo: US Immigration & Customs

LONDON – The prospect of deportation flights to Rwanda was put back on the table this month, following a High Court ruling in London deeming the UK government’s policy on deporting asylum seekers to the central African nation lawful.

Although the High Court found the deportation policy lawful, judges criticized Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s failure to properly assess the circumstances surrounding each individual being deported.

Lord Justice Lewis said that the Home Secretary “has not properly considered the circumstances of the eight individual claimants whose cases we have considered.”

Rwanda deportations deemed lawful

The policy of deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda was floated by the Home Office in April this year in a response to the numbers of asylum seekers making the deadly Channel crossings to reach the United Kingdom.

By agreement, the UK would pay Rwandan authorities to process migrants who attempted to reach the UK by these routes, which the government claim to be “illegal”.

The problem will become – which airline or air operator will be prepared to carry out the deportation flights on behalf of the UK Home Office?

The proposed “Rwanda Solution” has been mired in controversy since its announcement and drawn both heavy criticism and resistance.

The first deportation flight to Rwanda was set for June 14 this year, but failed to launch after a string of court challenges left the flight, which was operated by Spanish charter operator Privilege Style, sitting on the runway empty.

The European Court of Human Rights also intervened just prior to the scheduled departure of the deportation flight forcing its cancellation, and legal tangles have ensued ever since.

Airline of last resort pulls out

In October, Privilege Style 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.

And herein lies the problem confronting the UK government, going forward. Which airline is going to do the government’s dirty work and actually carry out the deportation flights if, or when they go ahead?

Privilege Style were referred to as the “airline of last resort” at the time of the first deportation flight mid-year. Two other charter airlines which previously conducted deportation flights for the UK government, Titan Airways and Airtanker, had also ruled themselves out of the scheme.

Deportation flights bad for business

The rising groundswell of public dissatisfaction with the UK government’s policy is becoming a critical issue for air operators considering engagement in what is a potentially lucrative contract on behalf of the UK Home Office.

Is the loss of customer goodwill worth the financial gain from the conduct of deportation flights?

There is no doubt that many ad hoc charter operators may have found the lure of the well-paid contract attractive, but history is showing that the growing backlash tips the scales against engagement in deportation operations.

The UK Home Office has modelled a lot of its offshore detention policy on the Australian offshoring model. Detainee transfer flights in Australia are carried out by a contracted private air operator, Skytraders.

Perhaps air operators would benefit from noting the lengths that the Australian operator has gone to, in order to keep its operations secret.

In 2012, Skytraders made a request to the global flight tracking organisation, FlightAware, that its detainee and asylum-seeker transportation flights not be tracked publicly.

It is highly unlikely that an airline will engage in deportation flights. The Home Office is reportedly in discussions with “several operators”. Perhaps the final task will fall to the Royal Air Force?

The Christmas contradiction

Former Home Secretary Priti Patel who was a central figure of the original Rwanda deportation policy has been criticised broadly by media after handing out a controversial Christmas card to colleagues.

The card (pictured) depicted Patel as a fairy on top of a tree, waving a wand over a tree festooned with ornaments inscribed with words including “Rwanda”. The childlike figure of Boris Johnson sits at the base of the tree looking on.

Image via Twitter

There’s a certain irony which seems to be missed by the key players here – the majority of asylum seekers facing deportation to Rwanda come from the Middle East.

If Jesus Christ returned in 2022 and made his way to the UK, he would be detained and bundled aboard a flight to Rwanda.

It seems that same irony is lost on the Australian government too – they set up their offshore detention centre on a remote island off Indonesia called Christmas Island.

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