Charity warns Government are trying to remove 'vulnerable victims of trafficking'

20 February 2020, 15:55 | Updated: 20 February 2020, 15:56

The letter has been sent to Priti Patel in an effort to halt the deportation flight
The letter has been sent to Priti Patel in an effort to halt the deportation flight. Picture: PA

The Home Secretary has been warned that people due to be deported to Europe today may not have been given "adequate access to justice".

The letter to Priti Patel accused the Government was seeking to remove "asylum seekers and vulnerable victims of trafficking".

Human rights charity Deportation Action and the Immigration Law Practitioners' Association (ILPA) wrote to the Home Office to voice concerns about access to legal advice in Immigration Removal Centres ahead of a charter flight to Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

The flight is being made under Dublin convention legislation, which requires asylum seekers to claim asylum in the first safe EU country they arrive in and not move from one to another.

EU countries can send people who have already made an asylum claim in one EU country back to that country, a right the UK retains during the Brexit transition period.

The Guardian reports at least eight of those on the flight are known to be Eritrean and two are Iranian.

It comes after the Home Office attempted to deport 50 people on a charter flight to Jamaica, despite concerns that some of them came to the UK as young children and have family ties to this country.

Detention Action mounted a legal challenge amid concerns that mobile phone outages near Heathrow Airport prevented many of those due to be deported from accessing legal advice.

The Court of Appeal made an injunction blocking the removal of anyone potentially affected and 25 people were taken off the flight as a result.

Detention Action and the ILPA have now claimed that just one law firm with only three solicitors was on duty in three Immigration Removal Centres last week - Morton Hall, Harmondsworth and Colnbrook.

"This means that they were the only firm present at three IRCs that combined will have been detaining hundreds - possibly over 1000 - individuals," the letter signed by Bella Sankey, the director of the Deportation Action, and Sonia Lenegan, the legal director of the ILPA said.

"We have a number of reasons for believing that this firm lacks both the capacity and the capability to provide adequate legal advice within the centres. This is of course of particular concern when clients are facing imminent removal directions, including those due to be on tomorrow's flight."

It adds: "Taken together, the structural failings of the DDA (Detained Duty Advice scheme) and the documented service failings of the firm on the rota for three IRCs in the w/c 10 February mean we are not confident that the Government can be satisfied that those scheduled to be removed on tomorrow's charter flight have been given adequate access to justice as required by Home Office policy."

Bella Sankey, director of Detention Action, said: "The Government is pressing ahead with another charter removal flight tomorrow, this time to a number of European countries to which it seeks to remove asylum seekers and vulnerable victims of trafficking.

"This is despite widespread concerns that the Government's system for the provision of legal advice in detention centres is in meltdown, with minimal solicitors available for at least three IRCs last week and grave concerns that several firms are regularly in breach of their contractual obligations providing either no or poor advice to those detained."

A Home Office spokesman said: "Anyone who makes a trafficking or modern slavery claim has them properly considered and concluded before removal.

"The UK only ever returns those who both the Home Office and the courts are satisfied do not need our protection and have no legal basis to remain in the UK."