Priti Patel has been accused of presiding over an “expensive but ineffective” removals strategy after it emerged the cost per deportee has surged by 200 per cent in four years.
An analysis of data by The Independent reveals that the average number of returnees on each charter flight has dropped from 45 in 2016 to just 15 last year – meaning the Home Office was spending an estimated £13,300 for each person removed, compared with £4,444 four years before.
Sixty charter flights left the UK in 2020, with a total of 883 people on board, according to the analysis of figures obtained through freedom of information law by campaign group No Deportations. This compares to a total of 1,563 people on board a total of 35 flights in 2016.
Shadow immigration minister Bambos Charalambous said: “This is yet another example of incompetence from Conservative ministers at the Home Office, with the taxpayer left to pick up the bill.”
Most individuals who had been due to be on the plane had their tickets cancelled by the Home Office in the days and hours before the flights after it emerged they had a legal basis to stay in Britain.
Bella Sankey, director of Detention Action, said part of the reason for the small number of people on each flight was that the Home Office was “scraping the barrel” and issuing removal directions to people who had “decent grounds to resist” in a bid to fill a larger number of flights.
“This cavalier use of charter flights is typical of Ms Patel’s approach to immigration. She is arbitrarily booking as many people as she can on mass expulsion flights, hoping no one will get the chance to argue the legal facts of their case before they’re bundled onto a plane in chains,” she added.
“It’s an expensive but ineffective strategy; but then she’s more concerned with creating a spectacle of immigration enforcement than competence or the rule of law.”
Each charter flight, which usually have capacity for 50 deportees, costs the Home Office roughly £200,000. The average number of returnees per flight has decreased year-on-year since 2016.
Sonia Lenegan, legal director at the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association, said the charter flight removals process was “inhumane, and not fit for purpose”.
She said the reason for the vast majority of failed removals was that the Home Office had “sought to remove someone before they have had proper access to legal advice, meaning that they are only able to access this immediately before their flight”.
“The best way to ensure that people are able to put forward their case properly at an early stage is to reinstate Legal Aid for all immigration cases,” Ms Lenegan added.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We only ever return those with no legal right to remain in the UK, including foreign national offenders. Late legal claims prevent the removal of dangerous criminals and reduce the value for money.
“Charter flights are an important means to return foreign national offenders and immigration offenders and we make no apology for doing whatever is necessary to remove these individuals from the UK.
“We will however utilise charter flights and scheduled flights flexibly to best meet operational needs and maximise value for money.”
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