Great Britain wants to deport asylum seekers who have entered the country illegally to Rwanda by plane for the first time on Tuesday, despite heavy criticism. “I can’t say exactly how many people will be on board,” British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told Sky News on Tuesday. “The really important thing is that we introduce the principle.”

The business model of people smuggling across the English Channel must be “broken”, said Truss. According to activists, the first plane to the East African country should take off from one of London’s airports on Wednesday night and land in Kigali on Wednesday.

Originally, 31 asylum seekers were to be flown out on the chartered plane. According to the organization Care4Calais, the tickets of 23 of those affected have now been canceled. The machine is now expected to start with only eight migrants to be deported on board, the organization said on Twitter. Among them are Albanians, Iraqis, Iranians and a Syrian.

London had signed an agreement with Rwanda to fly out illegal migrants to the East African country in exchange for payments. This is to deter people from trying to enter the UK illegally. Refugee and human rights organizations and the PCS union, which represents British border guards, had appealed against this, but had failed in court.

Activists criticize the agreement as immoral, dangerous and counterproductive. According to observers, the human rights situation in East African Rwanda is anything but ideal. The UN had also repeatedly criticized the British project.

Church leaders, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, sharply attacked the government for its asylum policy on Tuesday. “Our Christian heritage should inspire us to treat asylum seekers with compassion, fairness and justice,” Welby and 24 other bishops wrote in The Times. “This immoral policy is a disgrace to Britain.”

The human rights organization Pro Asyl sees the deportations as a “dangerous precedent”. “It is at the core of the Geneva Refugee Protection Convention to take responsibility for the protection of asylum seekers and refugees,” explained Pro-Asyl Managing Director Günter Burkhardt. Great Britain, however, evades this responsibility. “Then nothing is left of refugee protection but an empty phrase.”