A Florida judge has halted the deportation of 92 Somali men and women who alleged US immigration authorities physically abused them when they were shackled on an airplane for nearly 48 hours during a failed attempt to return the group to Somalia.

US federal district judge Darrin Gayles halted their deportation hours after lawyers filed a class action lawsuit against the government that alleged the Somalian immigrants were held in “inhumane conditions” on the airplane and faced heightened danger in Somalia because of subsequent media attention.

The group of deportees, which included people who had lived in the US for decades, were headed to Somalia on 7 December when the flight was turned back to the US from Dakar, Senegal, after being held there for 23 hours.

The judge’s order on Tuesday night stops the government from deporting the men and women for at least two weeks. The government said in court on Tuesday that it had planned to try to deport the group again on Wednesday morning.

“The judge acted just in time,” Rebecca Sharpless, lead attorney on the lawsuit, said in a statement.

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice), which chartered the deportation flight, does not comment on pending litigation. In earlier statements about the flight, which received widespread media attention, Ice denied allegations of mistreatment.

The agency said the flight was turned around after a layover in Dakar because the relief crew was unable to get sufficient rest.

“Various logistical options were explored, and ultimately Ice decided to reschedule the mission to Somalia and return to the United States with all 92 detainees,” the agency said in a statement.

The US has in recent decades avoided deporting people to Somalia because of its instability – only 31 people were removed to Somalia in fiscal years 2012 and 2013.

Despite the escalating conflict with al-Shabaab, the US has dramatically increased deportations there since late 2016. In fiscal year 2016, 198 Somalis were deported, rising to 521 in 2017.

Judge Gayles, of Florida’s southern district court, also ordered the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Ice to provide “adequate medical treatment” to passengers who may have suffered injuries during the journey and provide them with reasonable access to an attorney.

His order expires at 11.59pm on 2 January, but could be extended.

Dhiibo Fikirkaaga

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