The UK government on Tuesday defended its controversial policy to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, even as the entire senior leadership of the Church of England branded it shameful and immoral.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss insisted the first flight to Kigali, believed to be operated by Spanish charter firm Privilege Style, would take off, no matter how many people were on board.
“We’re expecting to send the flight later today,” Truss told Sky News but said she was unable to confirm the numbers due to be on board.
Truss said the policy, which the UN refugee agency has criticised as “all wrong”, was vital to break up human-trafficking gangs exploiting vulnerable migrants.
British media said some 260 people attempting the crossing in small boats were brought ashore at the Channel port of Dover by 1200 GMT on Tuesday.
– ‘Shames Britain’ –
“They (migrants) are the vulnerable that the Old Testament calls us to value,” Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell wrote in a letter to The Times.
It was reported last weekend that Queen Elizabeth II’s heir, Prince Charles, had privately described the government’s plan as “appalling”.
“Our policy is completely legal. It’s completely moral,” she added, accusing critics of having no alternative plan.
“We don’t think it is immoral to offer a home to people,” she told a news conference.
The prime minister accused opponents of “undermining everything that we’re trying to do to support safe and legal routes for people to come to the UK” and “abetting the work of criminal gangs”.
Truss said she could not put a figure on the cost of the charter flight, which has been estimated at upwards of £250,000 ($303,000).
In the Channel port of Calais, in northern France, migrants said the risk of deportation to Rwanda would not stop them trying to reach Britain.
Deported asylum seekers who make the 4,000-mile (6,500-kilometre) trip to Kigali will be put up in the Hope Hostel, which was built in 2014 to give refuge to orphans from the 1994 genocide of around 800,000 mainly ethnic Tutsis.
“This is not a prison. It’s a home like our home,” Bakina told AFP. “In a hotel a person will be free in everything they want. When they want to go out of the hotel, it’s no problem.”
The government in Kigali has said the deportations will begin slowly and rejected criticism that Rwanda is not a safe country and that serious human rights abuses were rife.