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UK begins detaining migrants set to be deported to Rwanda

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British authorities have started to detain migrants in preparation for them to be sent to Rwanda in the next nine to 11 weeks, the government said on Wednesday, laying the groundwork for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s flagship immigration policy.

Parliament last month approved a law that paves the way for sending asylum seekers to Rwanda if they arrive in Britain without permission. Sunak, who is expected to call an election later this year in which illegal migration is likely to feature prominently, wants the first flights to take off in July.

More than 7,500 migrants have arrived in England on small boats from France so far this year. The government says the new law will deter people from making the perilous trip across the Channel. Five people died trying to make the crossing last week.

Video released by Britain’s interior ministry on Wednesday showed a man being put in a van by immigration enforcement officials, and another being led out of his house in handcuffs.

“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,” interior minister James Cleverly said in a statement on Wednesday.

One trade union representing civil servants who may be instructed to help enact the policy said it had launched a legal challenge because its members were potentially being asked to breach international law.

“Civil servants should never be left in a position where they are conflicted between the instructions of ministers and adhering to the Civil Service Code, yet that is exactly what the government has chosen to do,” said Dave Penman, General Secretary of the FDA union.

Other unions and human rights charities opposed to the policy are expected to launch challenges to stop the flights from taking off after the UK Supreme Court declared the policy unlawful last year.

Record migration to UK piles pressure on PM Rishi Sunak

Care4Calais, a refugee charity, said the detentions had started on Monday.

The group’s helpline had received calls from “tens of people”, it said, adding that it was still not known who would be earmarked for the first deportation flight, or when it would be attempted.

“People are very frightened,” said Natasha Tsangarides, Associate Director of Advocacy at charity Freedom from Torture, saying the fear of being detained and sent to Rwanda would push some people to go underground and disengage with their support system.

Britain sent its first asylum seeker to Rwanda under a voluntary scheme, The Sun Newspaper reported on Tuesday, a separate programme to the deportation policy.

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