‘Refugees are welcome here’: Protesters march on Leeds City Square in battle against controversial government Rwanda immigration scheme

Protesters gathered at Leeds City Square this afternoon to stand up against the Government’s controversial Rwanda immigration scheme.

The protest comes after Downing Street confirmed last week that the Home Office agreement with Rwanda remained despite Boris Johnson’s resignation and suggested the first deportation flight could be made before a legal challenge against the policy is heard.

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Following challenges by Care4Calais and PCS Union, a hearing is set to decide whether the Rwanda policy is lawful.

The protest comes after Downing Street confirmed last week that the Home Office agreement with Rwanda remained despite Boris Johnson’s resignation.

"We want to send a message to the government because we know that in this country, in this county and in this city that people are compassionate and they do not support the Rwanda plan," Katie Spencer Mathews, organiser and regional lead volunteer for Care4Calais, told the YEP.

"We need to let those still stuck in detention - who are fighting a daily battle - know that we are here for them and that we are doing everything we can to stop the Rwanda plan."

The controversial scheme was introduced after Home Secretary Priti Patel came under sustained pressure to stop asylum seekers making journeys to the UK.

The move was initially billed as a plan to "offshore" some asylum seekers to Rwanda for "processing" - but it became clear many of the immigrants would only be flown one way and not return to the UK.

Following challenges by Care4Calais and PCS Union, a hearing is set to decide whether the Rwanda policy is lawful.

"The Ukraine visa scheme is a really good example of the Government getting it right so we know they have the capacity to come up with a workable plan," Katie explained.

"We just want the Government to get the message and ensure that people can arrive here safely and have their asylum claim heard in a fair and humanitarian way."

In April, Ms Patel signed what she branded a "world-first" agreement to send migrants deemed to have arrived in the UK illegally to Rwanda.

The first deportation flight however, which was due to take off in June, was grounded amid legal challenges.

Thousands have been protesting against the controversial scheme up and down the country, and Jonathan Lees, who described himself as a regular at Leeds protests feels the Government is using scheme to distract from other issues.

"I think the Conservatives are looking to please the more reactionary elements of their party and distract from the cost of living and other issues like that," he said.

"Immigrants are a massive part of our country and they need to be protected and supported. The Government can't be allowed to get away with the passing of this scheme."

Steve Valdez-Symonds, from Amnesty International UK, has urged the Government to re-think the “disastrous plan”, claiming it was “irresponsible and callous”.

He said: “The UK government is so far removed from reality and lacking in humanity that they are not only destroying the asylum system but also people’s lives.”

A judicial review of the scheme, brought by several individual asylum seekers as well as the PCS Union, Detention Action and Care4Calais, was originally scheduled to take place between July 19 and 21 in the High Court but the hearing has now been adjourned to September.

"What's really important is that everybody in this country who truly believes that this plan is cruel and unnecessary makes their voices heard." Katie from Care4Calais added.