Alarm has been expressed by charities and human rights campaigners as a decision is made by the Home Office to charter its first ever deportation flight to Vietnam.
It is believed the flight is due to take off very soon although it is unclear why the government has decided to remove the Vietnamese nationals at a time when deportations are at a historically low level due to the current pandemic.
Migrant rights organisations are also concerned that those due to be removed have not had full access to legal and other advice due to the pandemic. It is understood that at least one of those due to fly has lodged last minute legal submissions based on being a potential victim of trafficking.
A ticket to one Vietnamese national issued by the Home Office states: “You are the subject of a deportation order – directions have now been given for your removal from the United Kingdom on a direct flight to Noi Bai International Airport, Hanoi, Vietnam”.
Although the individual circumstances of each of those due to fly are not known, human rights groups warned that many Vietnamese migrants are subjected to various forms of exploitation in the UK such as forced cultivation of cannabis plants in illegal indoor farms, sex work or work in nail bars. Vietnam is one of the top source countries for trafficking to the UK.
Many Vietnamese nationals pay smugglers about £30,000 for a passage to what they believe will be a country where their economic prospects are better for themselves and their families than they are in Vietnam.
The mortal dangers of this made headlines after the tragic deaths of 39 Vietnamese migrants discovered dead in a lorry in Essex in October 2019.
Before the current pandemic a rota of immigration lawyers were visiting immigration removal centres. These consultations are now mostly carried out remotely. Many charities previously conducting visits to detention centres have not been doing so during the pandemic.
Detention outreach officer William Neal of Jesuit Refugee Service UK, an organisation providing support to some of those facing removal to Vietnam and who are now detained in Harmondsworth immigration removal centre near Heathrow, said: “We have often seen how charter flights are used to enforce blanket removal without sufficient legal scrutiny, and without proper consideration of the human impact of removal”.
“We support individuals faced with removal on charter flights and see the fear and uncertainty this can cause. This is part of a system that wants to avoid transparency and the basic safeguards that can be offered to individuals. Some of the individuals we support are survivors of trafficking and modern slavery in the UK”.
Director of Detention Action, Bella Sankey, said: “Charter flights create a perverse incentive for mass expulsions, and history shows, result in grave injustices including in life and death decision making. The system for accessing legal advice for those affected is in disarray meaning there is a risk that survivors of trafficking or those who have fled violence are slated for deportation. This experimental flight is dangerous politicking of the worst kind”.
The Home Office said in reply to Sankey’s comments: “We reject these claims, all individuals on a charter flight have opportunities for legal advice and to suggest otherwise is false. Those who have no right to remain in the UK should be in no doubt of our determination to remove them and our new plan for immigration will make this process easier”.