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More asylum seekers set to be deported on charter flights despite concerns over safety and legality

Campaigners say decision to pursue removals amounts to 'affront to public health' and calls on home secretary to urgently review plans to deport people under Dublin regulation

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Tuesday 18 August 2020 22:28 BST
Two charter flights are set to remove asylum seekers to three EU countries next week under the Dublin regulation
Two charter flights are set to remove asylum seekers to three EU countries next week under the Dublin regulation

The Home Office is pressing ahead with the deportation of asylum seekers who have recently arrived to the UK in small boats, despite mounting concern about the safety and legitimacy of carrying out removals at a time when coronavirus rates across Europe are rising.

Two charter flights are set to remove asylum seekers to three EU countries next week under the Dublin regulation, a law that requires asylum seekers to claim asylum in the first safe country they arrive in.

Among the receiving countries are France, which is set to introduce quarantine measures for people arriving from the UK within days, and Germany, which recorded its biggest daily increase in coronavirus cases last week.

A number of individuals who have arrived in the UK on small boats in recent months were taken from their asylum accommodation and detained in Brook House removal centre last Friday. They have since been informed that they will be deported either on a charter flight to both France and Germany on 25 August, or to Spain the following day.

Campaigners said the decision to pursue the removals amounted to an “affront to public health” and called on the home secretary to urgently review her plans to deport people under the Dublin regulation.

A separate Dublin removal flight destined for France and Germany took off last week with 14 asylum seekers on board. Nineteen people who were due to be on the flight did not board after last-minute legal intervention found that their removal could constitute a breach of their human rights.

Among those who had their deportation stayed were torture victims, people with severe PTSD and people who were at risk of homelessness and destitution on return to the EU country to which they were set to be removed.

Ammar, 24, a Yemeni national who was detained in Brook House on Friday after arriving by boat in March, is facing removal on the flight to Spain on the grounds that he claimed asylum there last year.

He told The Independent he was “forced” to try get to the UK because he was poorly treated within the Spanish asylum system.

“I didn’t plan to just pass through Spain. I wanted to find safety there, but the asylum system lacked organisation. I had many problems," he said.

"I had nowhere to live I told a charity I was living in the streets and I got somewhere to stay, but people there stole from me. I didn’t speak Spanish. I didn’t get an interpreter.

“Then I ran away to Paris, but smugglers occupy that place. I decided to come to the UK because I went to Spain and didn’t find safety, and I went to France and found myself in the street.

"I speak the English language. I can speak directly about my pain here, but in Spain and France, who will look after me if no one will translate for me?”

Ammar, who said he had fled persecution but the Houthi rebels in Yemen, added: “I will die here I won’t go. I’ve started to have hope in this country. I’ve started to feel normal. I can’t go back to Spain. The future for me there is bleak.”

Bella Sankey, director of charity Detention Action, said: ”The government's giddy attempts to restart mass deportation flights, as both France and the UK introduce quarantine measures, is an affront to public health. It also trashes the UK's record for refugee protection.

“History will not judge kindly a department which, in the midst of a deadly pandemic, raids asylum accommodation to forcibly remove terrified asylum seekers from Yemen, Iraq, Syria and other war ravaged countries. Where is the leadership and moral courage?“

Toufique Hossain, director of Public Law at Duncan Lewis Solicitors, called on the government to “urgently review” its removal plans under the Dublin Regulations, adding: “Many of those who Priti Patel is so desperate to return have legitimate reasons to stay in the UK.”

Minister Nick Gibb says boats could be used to block Channel migrants

More than 4,000 migrants have crossed the English Channel in small boats so far this year, including more than 1,200 in August alone – compared to 2,758 in the whole of 2019.

Humanitarian organisations have pointed out however that rather than denoting a surge in arrivals, the rise marks a shift in method, as many of those arriving on small boats would have previously arrived as stowaways in lorries.

Immigration lawyers and charities have urged that in order to reduce the number of people making risky sea journeys, the government must create safe and legal routes to the UK for asylum seekers.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “People should claim asylum in the first safe country they enter and we make no apology for seeking to remove migrants who have travelled through a safe country and have no right to remain in the UK.

“This is part of our strategy to stop people attempting this dangerous journey, make the route unviable and send a signal to anyone considering it, or being exploited by the criminal gangs who facilitate them, that we will do everything in our power to return them.

“Last week 15 people who had arrived on small boats were removed from the UK who had no right to be here – close to the number we had agreed with the receiving countries. We are working to increase the number of returnees countries are willing to accept on each flight.”

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