Government braced for next legal battle as migrants detained for Rwanda flights

The Government is braced for more legal battles over its Rwanda plan after the first migrants set to be deported were detained.

Rishi Sunak wants to see flights to the east African nation off the ground by July after the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Act became law last week.

Officials, though, are primed for legal challenges made in the wake of the detentions as they accepted some of those being held could end up being released on bail.

There are also suggestions other immigration offenders may have to be freed from detention in order to make space for those earmarked for Rwanda, but details on the Home Office operations have been limited.

It comes as the FDA trade union, which represents senior civil servants, threatened legal action over the plan.

About 800 immigration enforcement officers have been involved in the operations, with some met with protests – including a demonstration by Just Stop Oil – as they carried out a series of raids across the UK this week in preparation for deportation flights.

News of the raids came as figures showed Channel crossings had reached another record high and ahead of what is expected to be a testing set of local and mayoral elections for the Prime Minister across England and Wales in which the Conservatives are likely to suffer heavy losses.

Meanwhile, the Home Office faced questions over its ability to track down thousands of people it had earmarked for removal to Rwanda.

Women and men were detained in the enforcement action which is said to have taken place throughout the UK – in England, Wales and Scotland as well as Northern Ireland – since midday on Monday.

Government officials refused to say how many people had been held so far but confirmed more than two people had been detained.

Pictures of some of the operations, released by the Home Office, indicate at least two of those detained are men and both appeared to have been taken into custody from houses.

Home Office director of enforcement Eddy Montgomery said it was “vital that operational detail is kept to a minimum, to protect colleagues involved and those being detained, as well as ensuring we can deliver this large-scale operation as quickly as possible”.

Officials strongly suspect legal challenges will be made in light of the detentions ahead of Rwanda flights but are confident they will be able to defend any such action thanks to the laws and policies in place.

It is understood officials also fully expect applications for immigration bail to follow but stressed that anyone released from detention will be subject to strict bail conditions.

Migrants can only be detained if there is a realistic prospect of their removal from the UK. This means they could be released on bail in future if no action is being taken to deport them.

The Home Office may have to refer migrants for a bail hearing if they have been detained for four months or more.

Just Stop Oil was among those protesting outside an immigration enforcement office in Solihull on Wednesday, according to Home Office officials.

West Midlands Police said 13 people were arrested and have since been released on bail after a different demonstration in the same area on Monday. Officers were called just after 5.30pm that day to a protest in order to prevent a breach of the peace after access to the building was blocked.

Protests against immigration raids are also said to have taken place outside Home Office buildings in Swansea, Salford and Croydon.

In some instances, protesters are said to have been lying in front of cars in a bid to prevent them being used by immigration enforcement officers, according to government officials.

The Scottish Government’s Social Justice Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville condemned the footage of Home Office raids, adding: “The Scottish Government remains absolutely clear in our opposition to the Rwanda Act and I am appalled at the cruel enforcement action we have seen over the last 24 hours.”

More enforcement activity is due to take place in the coming weeks.

On Tuesday, it emerged a failed asylum seeker had become the first person to volunteer to be sent to Rwanda after being offered £3,000 to do so, prompting criticism from political opponents.

The man is understood to have accepted the offer under the voluntary scheme some weeks ago and is now in Kigali, with the Sun reporting his flight left on Monday evening.

Business and Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch told Times Radio this news should be “trumpeted” and demonstrated Rwanda was safe.

The policy, expanded to include Rwanda earlier this year, is separate from the Government’s plan to deport migrants arriving in the UK after crossing the Channel.

Labour accused the Government of “symbolic” gestures before an election in light of the “mad flurry of stories” about its activities. But Downing Street denied decisions to detain asylum seekers were connected to the upcoming local elections.

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: “Instead of headline-grabbing schemes that will waste time and resources, and are unleashing even more human misery, we need a fair and controlled asylum system.”

The Government’s plan to give migrants a one-way ticket to Kigali – in a bid to deter others from crossing the Channel – is yet to be tested, with the latest legislation aimed at making it legally sound having passed into law just days ago.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

Mr Sunak last week said it will take between 10 and 12 weeks for deportation flights to Rwanda to begin, meaning they will not start until the summer.

Provisional Home Office figures show 7,567 people have arrived in the UK so far this year after making the journey.

This is a new record high for the first four months of a calendar year and a 27% hike on the number of arrivals recorded for the same period in 2023.

Some 900 migrants have made the journey since the Safety of Rwanda Act became law after receiving Royal Assent on Thursday.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) said a fourth man had been arrested on suspicion of immigration offences after five migrants died last week while trying to cross the Channel.

Describing the Rwanda deal as a “pioneering response to the global challenge of illegal migration”, Home Secretary James Cleverly said: “We have worked tirelessly to introduce new, robust legislation, to deliver it.

“Our dedicated enforcement teams are working at pace to swiftly detain those who have no right to be here so we can get flights off the ground.

“This is a complex piece of work, but we remain absolutely committed to operationalising the policy, to stop the boats and break the business model of people-smuggling gangs.”