The Home Office broke its own UK immigration rules when deporting Vietnamese migrants, according to a report published by The Guardian. The report claims that six of 14 enforced removals did not spend the minimum of five working days in UK immigration removal prior to boarding a deportation flight, breaching the Home Office’s own rules.
27 Vietnamese nationals were removed from the UK on 21 April on a flight leaving from Birmingham. It is believed the flight was booked with holiday airline, Tui. However, Tui has refused to confirm or deny this. Of the 27 deportations, 14 were enforced and 13 were voluntary.
An email sent by a government lawyer, seen by The Guardian, shows that of the 14 people forcibly removed, six did not spend five working days in a UK immigration removal centre (IRC) prior to the deportation flight, where they would have access to legal advice surgeries.
Held in prison
Instead, the email says, they were held in prisons or short-term holding facilities, where accessing legal advice is more difficult. UK government rules state that everyone should be given a minimum of five working days with full access to legal advice before they are removed to ensure that their planned removal is lawful.
A high number of trafficking victims from Vietnam arrive in the UK and concerns have been raised that some of those deported may have been trafficked to the UK and are therefore entitled to protection in Britain.
A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “We complied fully with the due legal process, including ensuring those removed had opportunities for legal advice in this charter flight and to suggest otherwise is completely wrong.”
Government lawyer email
The email sent by the government lawyer acting on behalf of the Home Office said: “Of the 14 enforced returns, five individuals were in prisons until 19 April when they were transferred to an IRC. One individual was held at a short-term holding facility for two days within the five working days prior to removal.”
“This individual spent a total of six working days in an IRC from the date they were served with removal directions. All individuals were provided with at least five working days’ notice of removal.”
The email was sent to lawyers representing the NGO, Detention Action, in response to questions asked by the charity to the Home Office regarding the flight. The plane was set to depart Birmingham at 5pm on 21 April. The email sent by the government lawyer to Detention Action lawyers was timestamped 5.07pm – after the flight was due to be in the air.
The director of Detention Action, Bella Sanky, said: “We understand from the government’s lawyers that at least six people expelled on the flight to Vietnam were taken in direct breach of the Home Office’s own removal policy intended to ensure proper access to legal advice.”
“If correct, this is a breach of the rule of law, and may have put lives at risk and must be urgently reversed. The Home Secretary has serious questions to answer – in court if necessary,” Sankey added.
Human right campaigners
Meanwhile, human rights campaigners have raised concerns about the safety of those being returned to Vietnam.
The deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, Phil Robertson, said: “In these cases, Britain should have reflected that Vietnam is a country that punishes unauthorised departure of its nationals and will certainly mount a hostile investigation of these returnees for dissident activities or other undesirable behaviour while they were in the UK.”
“Given this reality, Britain should be bending over backwards to ensure opportunities to seek protection are offered, and safeguard procedures are followed to the letter, not trying to rush people on to planes for deportation in the midst of a pandemic,” Mr Robertson added.
Refugee and migrant rights director at Amnesty International, Steve Valdez-Symonds, said: “Amnesty is extremely concerned about reports that several people were forcibly removed from the UK by charter flight to Vietnam without proper opportunity for them to seek or receive legal advice and assistance.”
“There is a serious and wholly unacceptable risk that on this flight were people whose removal was unlawful, including people who are victims of human trafficking and other serious abuses,” Valdez-Symonds added.
Determination to remove
A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “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.”
“At all UK immigration removal centres individuals are able to contact their legal representatives by telephone, personal email, fax and through Skype video calls and additional mobile phone credit is also provided.
“Face-to-face legal visits continue to be held in exceptional circumstances, in line with government policy on social distancing and if no other means of contact are available,” the spokesperson added.
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