Over 25,000 migrants have crossed to the UK in flimsy, unsuitable craft this year
Over 25,000 migrants have crossed to the UK in flimsy, unsuitable craft this year AFP News

The UK government on Monday insisted that Rwanda is an appropriate place to deport failed asylum seekers, as it tried to overturn a court ruling that the policy is unlawful.

Three appeal court judges in London blocked the controversial plan in June, assessing that the African nation could not be considered a safe, third country.

At the start of a three-day hearing at the Supreme Court on Monday, lawyer James Eadie, representing the interior ministry, conceded that Rwanda was "a country less attractive" than the UK.

But he told a panel of five judges in the country's highest court that it was "nevertheless safe".

Both London and Kigali were "committed" to ensuring the deal they signed would work, and assurances had been given about how the scheme would work in practice, he added.

The Rwanda deportation policy, which has outraged human rights campaigners and groups representing asylum seekers, is at the heart of a UK government drive to cut migrant numbers.

Migration is likely to be a major issue on the doorstep as campaigning gets under way for a general election expected next year.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his ruling Conservative government have been under sustained pressure to stop so-called "small boats" crossings of migrants from northern France, and tackle a record backlog of asylum claims.

Eadie told the judges in central London that the government placed "considerable importance" on the policy, and there was a "serious and pressing need" to introduce it as a deterrent to the Channel crossings.

More than 25,000 people have been intercepted on dinghies and other unsuitable craft on the busy shipping lane so far this year.

Sunak has made stopping the boats one of his five key pledges.

More than 100,000 migrants have arrived in the UK by the route since records began in 2018.

It has become an embarrassment for a pro-Brexit government that promised to "take back control" of the country's borders after leaving the European Union.

The Rwanda deal was signed under Conservative former prime minister Boris Johnson but the first removal flights were successfully blocked in June last year by legal challenges.

Wrangling has gone on ever since. Two High Court judges in London dismissed claims about the legality of the deportation scheme in December 2022.

That prompted 10 asylum seekers -- from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Vietnam, Sudan and Albania, plus the charity Asylum Aid -- to appeal.

At the appeal court, the judges agreed the UK government could not guarantee that asylum seekers sent to Rwanda would not be deported back to the country from which they were fleeing.

"The deficiencies in the asylum system in Rwanda are such that there are substantial grounds for believing that there is a real risk that persons sent to Rwanda will be returned to their home countries, where they faced persecution or other inhumane treatment," the judges said in their ruling.

Ministers, however, are now said to be privately confident of winning the case and are reportedly already drawing up plans to remove over 4,000 migrants before the election, The Times daily said.

The Home Office is understood to be aiming for February 2024 for the first deportation flight to "send a signal" to people smuggling gangs that crossing via the Channel will likely lead to removal.

Britain's main opposition Labour party, which is well ahead of the Conservatives in the polls, on Sunday said it would drop the Rwanda plan if it was elected.

Party leader Keir Starmer -- a former human rights lawyer and chief state prosecutor -- said Labour would not pursue the "hugely expensive" and "wrong" scheme even if the Supreme Court ruled in the government's favour.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has pledged to 'stop the boats'
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has pledged to 'stop the boats' AFP News