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A senior high court judge has halted a UK Home Office charter flight meant to deport 20 asylum seekers to Spain, a country they had previously passed through before crossing the English Channel to Britain.

The order to ground the flight came from Judge Duncan Ouseley because of concerns that the asylum seekers might be left stranded in the streets of Madrid, as it happened to another group earlier this month.

The legal challenge was launched last week on behalf of five asylum seekers — four from Yemen and one from Syria, after The Guardian revealed that 11 Syrian asylum seekers who arrived in the UK on small boats and were deported to Spain because they had been finger-printed in that country, were told to leave the airport in Madrid.

Chris Buttler, counsel for the five asylum seekers, who brought the legal challenge, told the court that the asylum seekers the Home Office wanted to deport to Spain on Thursday were at risk of “indefinite street homelessness”.

However, Russell Fortt, counsel for the home secretary, told the court that the Home Office had made inquiries about reception arrangements for the asylum seekers with the Spanish authorities.

“Assurances have now been requested and have been given,” he said.

“It is sufficient to ensure that on this occasion they (the Spanish authorities) have given the undertaking.”

Fortt added that the psychiatric needs of the three asylum seekers who faced removal could also be adequately addressed in Spain.

Judge Ouseley said he was halting the charter flight so that a hearing could be arranged as soon as possible to investigate reception arrangements for asylum seekers sent to Spain from the UK in more detail.

This is the second time a Home Office charter flight has been grounded by a high court action.

As per the Dublin III Regulations, a European country can return asylum seekers to another they have previously passed through if there is evidence of this in the form of fingerprints or any other proof.

Home Secretary Priti Patel has pledged to remove 1,000 small boat arrivals before the end of the year when Britain completes its exit from the European Union.

In response to the judgement, Patel said: “We are bitterly disappointed with the court’s ruling, which has prevented us from returning people who have no right to be here.

“This case has not abated our determination, and we have more flights planned in the coming weeks and months.”

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