A charter flight which was due to depart on Tuesday night with dozens of Afghan asylum-seekers facing removal from Britain has been cancelled on the orders of an appeal court judge.
Lady Justice Rafferty blocked the flight ahead of a high court judicial review due on Wednesday on whether deportations to parts of remain safe in view of the deteriorating security situation.
The decision to postpone the charter flight of 56 rejected Afghan asylum-seekers, which was due to leave at 11.30pm on Tuesday, follows warnings to European countries by the Afghan minister for refugees and repatriation that 80% of the country was not safe to send people back to.
It also follows a separate ruling by a high court judge ordering the Home Office to arrange for a deported migrant family to be returned to Britain from Nigeria.
In an unusual step an immigration judge, Mr Justice Cranston, 10 days ago ordered the Home Office to find the mother and her five-year-old son and bring them back to Britain by Thursday.
He said in the “special circumstances” of the case the home secretary had failed to have regard for the best interests of the child, known only as RA, as a primary consideration in sending him back to Nigeria with his 45-year-old mother.
The judge said the Home Office had adopted a “careful and proactive” approach to the child’s interests in contacting the school and involving the [UK Border Agency’s] children’s champion and the independent family returns panel [which advises the Home Office on meeting welfare needs of children in families to be removed].
But he said they had not taken into account the implications of his mother’s degenerating mental health and the likely consequences for the child of sending them back to Nigeria together.
A Home Office attempt to overturn the ruling demanding the return of the mother and son from Nigeria was rejected at an appeal court hearing on Wednesday. “The tribunal was fully entitled to take the decision it did,” said the judge. The pair are due to arrive in London on a flight from Nigeria on Thursday.
The Home Office confirmed that the scheduled charter flight of Afghan deportees had not left on Tuesday night but refused to comment further on the case.
Lawyers for the Afghan deportees were expected to argue at a judicial review hearing on Wednesday that Britain could not safely return deportees to Afghanistan due to the security situation, which has deteriorated since allied forces started pulling out of the country.
They claim that nowhere outside of Kabul could be considered safe enough to send people back to and the Afghan capital did not have the infrastructure to look after vulnerable people who have been deported from Europe. The legal challenge is effectively pressing for the official Foreign Office country guidance for Afghanistan to be rewritten.