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Britain faces challenges to its plan to deport asylum-seekers to Rwanda

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

The British government's new policy to send asylum-seekers from multiple countries to Rwanda is in court today. A ruling could affect whether the first deportation flight takes off tomorrow. Willem Marx reports from London.

WILLEM MARX: Already this year, more than 10,000 people in small dinghies have crossed the busy shipping lane that separates southern England from the French coastline. Of those that dare to make the dangerous journey, many claim asylum upon arrival in Britain. Late last year, more than two dozen drowned trying. U.K. authorities have spent millions to prevent these voyages, paying French police to guard beaches and boosting British naval patrols, but the migrants have continued to cross. Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government recently revealed another response, vowing to transfer some migrants to Rwanda for their asylum claims to be processed in the African nation. Interior Minister Priti Patel defended this unprecedented approach in April to the House of Commons.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRITI PATEL: Change is needed because people are dying attempting to come to the U.K. on illegal and dangerous routes.

MARX: Patel and Johnson say the proposal to offshore the asylum process may prevent more potential migrants from making the same trip. They also insist the plan is permitted under international law. On Friday, the high court in London ruled that, quote, "a material public interest" meant the first flight on Tuesday could go ahead, despite refugee advocates and attorneys seeking to stop it. Later today, an appeal court will review that decision, while the high court will hear another charity's legal challenge.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) No Rwanda, no Rwanda (ph).

MARX: Over the weekend, protests at several sites piled more pressure on the government. A formal examination of the policy's legality - known as a judicial review - will begin next month, but the union representing most Border Force officers has already opposed the plan. Mark Serwotka is general secretary of that union and told Sky News the government was putting his members in a precarious position.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARK SERWOTKA: Imagine if you are told to do something on Tuesday that in July is subsequently found to be illegal. That would be an appalling situation.

MARX: Three dozen migrants were initially told they'd be on that Tuesday flight, but several have in recent days seen their removal orders cancelled. Critics say such small numbers of deportations will do little to deter others in the future, and exemptions for families may encourage more kids to make the deadly crossings. But Downing Street insists that until the policy is fully operational, the true impact cannot be accurately assessed. For NPR News, I'm Willem Marx in London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Willem Marx

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