Security 'hugged' migrants on Rwanda flight after it was cancelled

Security guards on board failed Rwanda flight ‘hugged and congratulated migrants’ after it was blocked by European judges

  • Security guards ‘hugged and congratulated’ migrants onboard Rwanda flight 
  • Inaugural flight to east Africa was cancelled at the 11th hour by Euro judges
  • The intervention has sparked a row over the ECHR’s role in UK affairs 

Security guards ‘hugged and congratulated’ migrants onboard Priti Patel’s first deportation flight to Rwanda after it was blocked by European judges.

The Home Secretary’s inaugural removal flight to east Africa was cancelled shortly before it was due to take off on Tuesday following the 11th-hour intervention by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) – despite the Supreme Court’s green light.

Mohammed, an Iranian Kurd who was being held in Colbrook removal centre near Heathrow, claimed guards onboard the private charter jet due to take off from MoD Boscombe Down celebrated upon hearing that the flight had been cancelled.

‘Some of the security guards and others were actually happy. They were hugging us. They were congratulating us,’ he told The Independent. 

‘It was clear they were just trying to obey orders. It wasn’t something that even they were comfortable with. I was feeling happy and relieved. I was also still unsure of what the future holds. We couldn’t share our feelings with each other. We were each feeling it on our own. I really would have loved to hug the others but I couldn’t.’

Other migrants said that they felt like they were being sent for ‘execution’ before the ECHR’s extraordinary late-night intervention.

The intervention has sparked a row over the ECHR’s role in UK affairs, with Justice Secretary Dominic Raab now examining whether ministers can disregard last-minute rulings from the Strasbourg court in cases which have already been considered by British judges.  

Crew members board the Rwanda deportation flight EC-LZO Boeing 767 at Boscombe Down Air Base, on June 14, 2022 

A private charter jet (believed to be empty of passengers) leaves MoD Boscombe Down on June 14, 2022

Police vehicles pictured guarding the main entrance to MoD Boscombe Down in Wiltshire

Protesters gathered outside Colnbrook Immigration Detention Centre in Heathrow and lay on the ground in an effort to halt Tuesday’s first flight transporting UK asylum seekers to Rwanda

Boris Johnson and Priti Patel’s Rwanda migrant policy has been dealt a blow by European judges this week

In other developments in the migrant crisis: 

  • Attorney General Suella Braverman refused to rule out Britain quitting the ECHR, saying the public had voted to ‘take back control of our borders’;
  • Tory MPs lined up to call for full withdrawal from the ECHR, with one branding its intervention ‘despicable’;
  • Miss Patel blasted the secrecy of the European Court, which has yet to provide the Home Office with the full grounds for its bombshell decision;
  • Ministers voiced anger at the Court’s refusal to identify the judge involved in Tuesday night’s case amid rumours the decision may have been taken by a Russian judge;
  • Hundreds more migrants crossed the Channel in small boats, with some even landing in Devon;
  • Migrants who were due to be on Tuesday night’s Rwanda flight were told they will be tagged so they can be removed at a later date;
  • Boris Johnson accused Labour of being ‘on the side of the people traffickers’ after it savaged the Rwanda policy but failed to produce an alternative.

Timeline of defeat: How the first flight to Rwanda failed to take off 

Tuesday was meant to mark the first flight of the Government’s much-vaunted Rwanda resettlement scheme for UK asylum seekers.

At the start of the day, just seven names remained of the 130 on the original passenger list after a series of legal challenges. So how did the day unfold?

12.42pm – The Supreme Court rejected an appeal over a judge’s refusal to call off the removal of an asylum seeker due to be deported. 

2.05pm – The first of four appeals before the High Court was rejected by Lord Justice Swift.

2.30pm – The second and third asylum seekers’ appeals were also refused at the High Court by Lord Swift.

3.30pm – The Prime Minister admits it may be ‘necessary to change some laws’ in an interview with Sky News to allow the Rwanda resettlement scheme.

4.30pm – A fourth asylum seeker’s claim is also rejected at the High Court by Lord Swift. 

4.35pm – A Boeing 767 aircraft is spotted on the runway at MoD Boscombe Down in Wiltshire.

4.40pm – Rwanda government spokeswoman Yolande Maloki defends the resettlement scheme in a press conference and insists it is not a punishment.

6.10pm – Protesters from ‘Stop Deportations!’ block the exit routes from Colnbrook Immigration Detention Centre in Heathrow.

6.40pm – In a decisive turning point, the European Court of Human Rights passes an injunction preventing a 54-year-old Iraqi man from being transferred on the flight. 

6.55pm – Around five Home Office vans are spotted at MoD Boscombe Down. 

7.20pm – Speculation mounts whether the flight will go ahead after the ECHR’s ruling.

7.45pm – Demonstrators gather at the front of Mod Boscombe Down waving banners. 

9.30pm – There are reports of just three asylum seekers on the plane, which was due to take off shortly.

10pm – Reports emerge that there is just one asylum seeker left on the plane amid confusion over whether it will depart.

10.10pm – The final asylum seeker is removed from the Boeing 767 aircraft, at which point it  is announced the flight has been cancelled.

Miss Patel last night vowed to press ahead with the Rwanda policy – and revealed a series of further flights are already in the planning stages.

But it is understood no final decision will be made on booking a new flight until the full implications of the Strasbourg ruling are made clear. It remains unknown whether the 11th-hour ruling is broad enough to bar all migrants from being removed.

The Home Secretary yesterday said she was ‘disappointed and surprised’ by Strasbourg’s decision to overrule British courts but told MPs it was ‘inevitable’ there would be legal challenges to the policy. 

One Cabinet source described the court’s intervention as ‘maddening’.

Last night Government lawyers were examining whether some people – such as those who do not claim to have suffered ill-treatment in their home countries – would not be covered by the ECHR injunction’s terms and could still be put on a plane to Kigali.

In an apparent reference to the campaign groups and human rights lawyers who have brought repeated legal actions, Miss Patel told MPs that ‘the usual suspects’ had set out to ‘thwart’ the plan.

She criticised the ‘very opaque’ ruling by the ECHR late on Tuesday night which led to the inaugural flight being aborted.

It is understood a number of migrants were already aboard a chartered Boeing 767 at the Ministry of Defence air base at Boscombe Down, Wiltshire, when the flight was abandoned.

Miss Patel also attacked ‘mobs’ who staged a blockade of the A4 at Colnbrook immigration removal centre, near Heathrow, in an attempt to stop migrants being removed.

A string of Tory MPs yesterday called for the Government to withdraw from the ECHR entirely.

Sir Desmond Swayne told Miss Patel: ‘We are going to have to grasp the nettle and extend the provision of taking back control to the ECHR.’

Rother Valley MP Alexander Stafford urge the Home Secretary to press ahead with the policy ‘despite this despicable ruling from the foreign European Court of Justice’.

Former No 10 aide Danny Kruger told a Tory MPs’ WhatsApp group: ‘Ultimately we do need to leave [the] ECHR or renegotiate to return to the original limited concept of human rights as drafted by Conservative Brit lawyers in the 50s to give post Nazi Europe the same rights and liberties as UK had enjoyed for centuries.’

Stoke MP Jonathan Gullis said: ‘The ECHR has no place in the UK judicial system. The Government needs to free itself from it entirely.’

According to the European Implementation Network, which monitors the effectiveness of the court, almost half of its judgments in the last decade are yet to be complied with by member states.

The UK is one of the top performers, complying with 80 per cent of judgments, compared with 72 per cent for France, 63 per cent for Germany and just 39 per cent for Spain.

Russia has implemented only 10 per cent of the court’s rulings in the last decade, while Azerbaijain has followed just three per cent.

But there were signs yesterday that a full withdrawal from the ECHR would split the Tory Party.

Downing Street left the door open to the move, saying ‘all options are on the table’.

And Mrs Braverman told the BBC: ‘We are considering our response in relation to that decision, but more broadly we are definitely open to assessing all options available as to what our relationship should be going forward with the [ECHR].’

But pensions minister Guy Opperman said leaving the ECHR was ‘not policy’ and ‘not something I will be advocating for’.

Former justice secretary Robert Buckland added: ‘I don’t think it’s right for us, as a party, to abandon our historic commitments to the European convention. It was British Conservative lawyers who wrote it after the war.’

Government sources expressed deep concern that authorities at Strasbourg had yet to reveal which judge ruled on the case.

The court is one of the few European institutions to retain links with Russia, despite its pariah status in the wake of the Putin’s bloody Ukraine war.

Moscow’s representative on the judicial panel, Mikhail Lobov, is understood to still be hearing cases at the court.

It also emerged yesterday that London’s Court of Appeal issued injunctions barring the removal of three migrants in the wake of the Strasbourg case.

Senior UK judges ruled earlier this week that the legality of the Rwanda deal will be decided by a full judicial review, expected to be heard by the end of next month.

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