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Syrian refugees to be on first deportation flight from UK to Rwanda, charity says

The UK partnership with Rwanda has been criticised by rights groups and is expected to face pushback before the first scheduled flight on 14 June
Migrants picked up at sea while attempting to cross the English Channel are helped by a member of the UK Border Force to disembark from a boat at Dover on 3 May 2022 (AFP)

A group of Syrian refugees will be sent to Rwanda later this month as part of the UK government's controversial deportation scheme, a charity has said.

Zoe Gardner, head of policy and advocacy at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), said on Twitter on Tuesday that 15 Syrians had been told they would be sent to Rwanda on 14 June.

Protect Civilians, a Syrian refugee advocacy group, said refugees from Syria and Afghanistan would be on the list of people set to be deported, Sky News reported.

The Home Office said on Tuesday that an initial group of migrants have started to receive formal letters telling them they are being sent to Rwanda to "rebuild their lives in safety".

"The Removal Direction confirms that they will be going to Rwanda and when," Britain's Home Secretary Priti Patel said in a statement. "The first flight is expected to take place next month, on the 14th of June."

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The Home Office did not confirm how many asylum seekers would be on the first flight, but one official told BBC News all those to be issued with the direction are currently in asylum detention.

One group threatening legal action is Detention Action, which noted that the June 14 date had been announced in the week that Britain celebrates 70 years since Queen Elizabeth II ascended the throne, AFP reported. 

"What a way to mark the Platinum Jubilee weekend, by telling torture and slavery survivors who have travelled thousands of miles to reach safety that they will be expelled to an oppressive dictatorship," it said.

UK policy to send asylum seekers to Rwanda criticised as 'cruel'
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In April, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that some migrants who arrived without authorisation would be sent to Rwanda where their applications will be processed.

Those who fail in their asylum bids in Rwanda will be offered the chance to apply for visas under other immigration routes if they wish to return to the country, but they could still face deportation, BBC reported. 

In 2021, Middle East and North African countries made up 11 of the top 20 countries for those who came to the UK via small boats, according to data from the Home Office, MEE reported last month.

Iran was the highest with 7,874 arrivals, followed by Iraq with 5,414. Syria came in fourth. 

Johnson’s policy - which will affect people from countries such as Syria, Iraq, Sudan and Yemen, who arrived in the UK in small boats and were likely to be fleeing persecution - was widely condemned by politicians, charities, and rights groups and is expected to have significant impacts on those fleeing persecution in the Middle East and North Africa. 

"We cannot sustain a parallel illegal system. Our compassion may be infinite, but our capacity to help people is not," Johnson said at the time.

According to Reuters, Johnson had been under pressure to deliver on his promise to "take back control" of Britain's borders. 

"There is a deliberate attempt to paint people seeking asylum as jumping the queue," Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, told Middle East Eye in a statement last month. 

"Yet this ignores the fact that the government's own data shows that two-thirds of men, women and children arriving in small boats across the channel come from countries where war and persecution have forced them from their homes."

A similar deal to the UK's new policy was also struck between Rwanda and Israel between 2014 and 2017, but it resulted in most of the 4,000 asylum seekers reportedly leaving the African country soon after arrival. 

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