Home Office 'committed' to Rwanda deportation scheme as airline pulls out

Privilege Style says it "will not operate flights to Rwanda" after pressure from campaigners
A rally outside the Home Office against the Rwanda scheme in June. Photo: Eleventh Hour Photography/Alamy Live News

The Home Office has insisted it is "committed" to the Rwanda relocation policy after the charter airline contracted to transport asylum seekers to the East African country pulled out of the scheme.

Privilege Style, a Mallorca-based company, has said it will no longer operate flights to Rwanda following an email campaign organised by the Freedom from Torture charity, the Guardian revealed this morning.

In a letter to the charity, which supports torture survivors, the company said it “hereby wishes to communicate the following: that it will not operate flights to Rwanda in the future. That it has never flown to Rwanda since the one flight scheduled for June 2022 (which is the reason for this controversy) was suspended”.

The first flight to effectively deport asylum seekers to the East African country under the scheme, which was announced by then-home secretary Priti Patel in April, was grounded by an 11th-hour challenge by the European Court of Human Rights in June.

Cabinet minister Therese Coffey said at the time the government was “disappointed” but that the Home Office was “already getting ready for the next flight and we will continue to prepare and try and overturn any future legal challenges as well”.

It is unclear how the scheme will continue now that the supplier has pulled out. Two other airlines that have conducted deportation flights, Titan Airways – which operates the ministerial “Brexit jet” – and AirTanker, have already ruled themselves out of the scheme.

The Home Office said it does not comment on “operational matters”.

The withdrawal comes a few weeks after another charity, Medical Justice accused the Home Office of inflicting “premeditated” harm on asylum seekers through the policy. 

The charity found torture and trafficking victims were among the 51-strong first wave of people set to be deported through the scheme. Some were found to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and suicidal thoughts.

This summer, it was revealed that the Home Office was warned that the Rwandan government uses “arbitrary detention, torture and even killings” to silence its political opponents while it was preparing to send asylum seekers to the country.

And last week, a Lords committee said it was “unacceptable” that the government had avoided parliamentary scrutiny of the £120m agreement by concluding it was a memorandum of understanding rather than a formal treaty.

MoUs are not legally binding and the safeguards set out in the UK-Rwanda agreement are not legally enforceable. “Neither the individuals themselves nor the UK government can ensure the rights of those affected are protected once they have been transferred to Rwanda,” the International Agreements Committee said.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We remain committed to our world-leading migration partnership with Rwanda, which will see those who come to the UK through dangerous, illegal and unnecessary routes relocated to Rwanda to rebuild their lives there.

“Rwanda is a safe and secure country with a strong track record of supporting asylum seekers and we will continue to robustly defend the partnership in the courts.”

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