More than half of deportations from the UK are called off, The Independent can reveal – raising concerns that thousands of people are being unfairly targeted for forcible removal.
Figures obtained through freedom of information law show that of the 24,674 removal directions issued last year, 15,200 were cancelled. Of these, more than two-thirds were called off within a week of the scheduled removal and 45 per cent within just one day.
Lawyers and campaigners said the cancelled removals were a waste of public money and a "damaging" symptom of the Home Office’s “detain first, ask questions later” approach.
The most common reason for cancellation was because legal representations had been submitted (34 per cent), with other reasons given including ”administrative”, “disruptive behaviour” and “medical”.
It comes after the High Court ordered the Home Office to stop using a controversial “no warning” tactic, which means a person can be told that at any point during the subsequent three months they may be given between three and seven days' notice that they will be removed.
The decision meant the Home Office had to immediately cancel 69 removals scheduled for the coming days. During the hearing, the court heard that hundreds, if not thousands, of people were probably subject to the policy in any one year.
Opelo Kgari, who has been issued removal directions twice but had them cancelled both times within hours of the flight time, said the experience was “traumatising” and that a large amount of resources were wasted in the process.
The 28-year-old, who came to the UK from Botswana when she was 13, told The Independent how she and her mother were chaperoned by a dozen officers in two separate vans to the airport last March before their removal was cancelled following intervention from their MP.
A month later they were again placed in removal vans and driven towards the airport, before intervention from their solicitor mean the process was again cancelled. They have since been granted leave to remain in the UK.
Ms Kgari said: “The whole process must cost a lot of money. Having the escorts come in from wherever in the country to the detention centre, getting their vans, taking you to the airport and then the removal being cancelled. It just goes to show how extremely disorganised they are.
“The anxiety levels were really high as it was. Then the Home Office says last minute that it won’t happen this time. But it’s still really difficult. You think ‘okay, I’ve missed that bullet, but it’s probably going to happen again’. The stress just mounts.
“In my case, the first time we were almost removed, our solicitor was pretty useless, so I had to get in touch with all my friends and it was an MP that ended up halting the removal – not everyone has that chance.”
Celia Clarke, director of Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID), said the figures were “shocking” and accused the Home Office of serving removal directions “for its own convenience”.
She said: “The uncertainty caused by this callous practice is highly damaging for the people concerned, whether they are parents who face permanent separation from their children, survivors of torture or trafficking, or people who have grown up in the UK and face deportation to a country they have no connection to.
“We have repeatedly raised concerns about the dearth of legal advice in detention and the devastating impact of the 2013 legal aid cuts which removed all non-asylum immigration work from the scope of legal aid.
“The high number of removals being prevented by last-minute submissions is a symptom of a system that is broken in which individuals are not able to access the legal advice they need at an early opportunity and are forced to make late submissions in desperation.
“Clearly this system does not serve anyone’s interests and urgently needs reform.”
The Independent has reported on numerous cases in the past year whereby people have been threatened with removal, but following intervention by their solicitor or their MP – as well as media coverage – their departure has been cancelled.
The trend has been branded a symptom of Theresa May’s hostile environment, which came about during when the coalition government was in power and has since been blamed for the Windrush fiasco and a swathe of other immigration scandals.
Immigration lawyer Colin Yeo said the high number of cancellations and declining number of removals suggested a “detain first, ask questions later” approach, which he described as a “waste of public money as well as being very distressing to those affected”.
Mr Yeo added: “It also suggests something is wrong with Home Office information on who is removable and who is not.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We only return those with no legal right to remain in the UK, including foreign national offenders and failed asylum seekers.
“We carefully consider all representations made in relation to a case and, should further submissions be made, have a duty to grant these appropriate consideration.”
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