UN experts warn airlines over Sunak’s Rwanda scheme

United Nations experts have warned airlines involved in Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda asylum scheme they could be held responsible for any violations of international human rights rules.

Siobhan Mullally, Gehad Madi and Alice Jill Edwards, the special rapporteurs on human trafficking, migrants’ human rights and torture, warned airlines and regulators could be “complicit” in breaching the rules by facilitating removals to Rwanda.

The Prime Minister used a Downing Street press conference to say that the Government had booked commercial charter plans and had an airfield on standby for the first Rwanda flight, which would take place in 10-12 weeks.

But the UN experts said: “Even if the UK-Rwanda agreement and the Safety of Rwanda Bill are approved, airlines and aviation regulators could be complicit in violating internationally protected human rights and court orders by facilitating removals to Rwanda.”

The legislation, which is set to clear Parliament later on Monday, is aimed at making the plan to send asylum seekers on a one-way trip to Rwanda legally watertight.

But the UN experts said: “If airlines and aviation authorities give effect to state decisions that violate human rights, they must be held responsible for their conduct.

“As the UN guiding principles on business and human rights underline, aviation regulators, international organisations and business actors are required to respect human rights.”

The UN experts have been in contact with the UK Government, as well as national, European and international aviation regulators, including the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and international bodies including the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to express their concerns and remind them of their responsibilities.

James Wilson, director of campaign group Detention Action, said: “By forcing people onto planes to Rwanda, this Government is outsourcing its responsibility to protect people seeking asylum here.

“Airlines must not profit from the misery and human rights abuses caused by this plan.

“It will set a very dangerous precedent that businesses can ignore human rights and international law when it suits them, putting us all at risk.”

The Government has reportedly struggled to find an airline willing to take part in the Rwanda scheme.

Downing Street was thought to have drawn up plans to order the Ministry of Defence to repurpose at least one leased aircraft like an RAF Voyager, if required.

Campaigners have called on AirTanker, the company which supplies Voyager to the RAF, not to get involved and claimed tens of thousands of people had written urging the same.

Amnesty International UK warned airline companies that they should be “mindful that many members of the public – including passengers, shareholders, and other contractors – may take an “extremely negative view” of any involvement in the policy.

The organisation’s chief executive Sacha Deshmukh said: “Though the Government seems not to care about trashing the UK’s reputation as a law-abiding country, airline companies ought to view this entirely misguided enterprise very differently.

“Any involvement by commercial airlines in Rwanda refugee flights may open them up to legal challenge on the grounds of complicity in the Government’s human rights violations.”