Britain cancels the first flight carrying refugees and migrants to Rwanda as part of a controversial policy after the last-gasp intervention by European Court of Human Rights.

Leaders of the Church of England have joined the opposition, calling the government's deportation policy
Leaders of the Church of England have joined the opposition, calling the government's deportation policy "immoral" saying it "shames Britain". (AFP)

Britain has cancelled its first deportation flight to Rwanda after a last-minute intervention by the European Court of Human Rights, which decided there was "a real risk of irreversible harm" to the asylum seekers involved.

The flight had been scheduled to leave on Tuesday evening but lawyers for the asylum seekers launched a flurry of case-by-case appeals seeking to block the deportation of everyone on the government’s list.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss had said earlier in the day that the plane would take off no matter how many people were on board. But after the appeals, no one remained.

The decision to scrap the Tuesday flight caps three days of frantic court challenges as immigration rights advocates and labour unions sought to stop the deportations. The leaders of the Church of England joined the opposition, calling the government's policy "immoral."

READ MORE: UK to relocate asylum seekers to Rwanda from mid-June

Johnson defends plan

Earlier in the day, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had emphatically defended the plan. 

"We are going to get on and deliver" the plan, Johnson declared, arguing that the move is a legitimate way to protect lives and thwart the criminal gangs that smuggle migrants across the English Channel in small boats.

The prime minister announced an agreement with Rwanda in April in which people who entered Britain illegally would be deported to the East African country. 

In exchange for accepting them, Rwanda would receive millions of dollars in development aid. The deportees would be allowed to apply for asylum in Rwanda, not Britain.

Opponents have argued that it is illegal and inhumane to send people thousands of kilometres away to a country they don't want to live in. 

Britain in recent years has seen an illegal influx of refugees from such places as Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Sudan, Iraq and Yemen.

Activists have denounced the deportation policy as an attack on the rights of refugees that most countries have recognised since the end of World War II.

Politicians in Denmark and Austria are considering similar proposals. Australia has operated an asylum-processing center in the Pacific island nation of Nauru since 2012.

READ MORE: UN 'firmly opposed' to UK sending asylum seekers to Rwanda

UK's plan 'shames Britain'

 Two top clerics in the Church of England and 23 bishops have declared UK's plan "immoral" saying it "shames Britain".

"They (refugees and 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.

"We cannot offer asylum to everyone, but we must not outsource our ethical responsibilities, or discard international law – which protects the right to claim asylum."

It was reported last weekend that Queen Elizabeth II's heir, Prince Charles, had privately described the government's plan as "appalling".

But Truss said, "The people who are immoral in this case are the people traffickers trading on human misery."

In Kigali, government spokeswoman Yolande Makolo told reporters it was an "innovative programme" to tackle "a broken global asylum system".

"We don't think it is immoral to offer a home to people," she said.

READ MORE: UK’s asylum outsourcing deal with Rwanda could fuel people smuggling

Source: TRTWorld and agencies