After last minute legal challenges blocked 29 removals from the UK, a plane chartered by the Home Office flew a single Channel migrant out of the country.
The flight to France went ahead because the aircraft had already been paid for by the British taxpayer. Home Office sources say lawyers for dozens of migrants who were due to be returned waited until the final possible moment to lodge appeals which would prevent them being put aboard the aircraft. In 18 cases they lodged claims under human rights laws. Six further cases, involved for the first time allegations of modern slavery. This requires the Home Office to carry out further research and delays removal. The flight from an unnamed airport is believed to have cost at least £100,000.
This debacle goes to add further weight to Home Secretary Priti Patel’s argument that the asylum system needs radical reform.
In August, the Home Office were forced to scrap a video on its official Twitter feed because it referred to ‘activist lawyers’ who were delaying and disrupting returns. A Whitehall source said: “These dinghy-chasing activist lawyers just show why there must be widespread reform. It is completely unacceptable”.
The solo migrant removed was a Sudanese national.
Five of those whose removal was postponed had already been deferred from an earlier flight.
Under EU rules known as the Dublin 111 Regulation, asylum seekers who have previously claimed refugee status in another EU country can be returned there. But the current law allows lawyers to submit challenges at any stage of the process, including at the last minute. Priti Patel says that she wants to streamline the legal system so that all grounds of appeal must be lodged at the beginning of a case.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “On that flight, we received a large number of first-time human rights claims, which have to be given appropriate periods of consideration”. The Government’s efforts to facilitate entirely legitimate and legal returns of people who have entered the UK through illegal routes are too often frustrated by last-minute challenges submitted hours before a scheduled flight. The claims are very often baseless and entirely without merit, but have to be given full legal consideration, leading to removal being rescheduled and can effectively result in the timing out of a return due to the stringent Dublin Regulation”.
“It is right we seek to remove migrants who have travelled through a safe country and have no right to remain in the UK – people should claim asylum in the first safe country they enter and we make no apologies for pursuing removals.
The flight fiasco came as it emerged the number of asylum seekers living in budget hotels has risen to more than 9,500. At the beginning of September the figure was 8,000 spread across 91 properties in 51 authorities. The Government froze the asylum process during lockdown and deporting ground to a halt.
Those claiming asylum are entitled to £37.75 per week for food, toiletries and clothing. The Home Office’s most senior civil servant, Matthew Rycroft said: “There are more people coming into the asylum system at the moment than are leaving it and that is because of Covid”.
Of the 9,500 living in hotels, 1,200 have been denied asylum and are awaiting deportation, the public accounts committee heard. Around 2,500 have been granted asylum and can leave after suitable accommodation is found for them.