A charter flight to remove asylum seekers who recently arrived in the UK on small boats is due to take off despite last-minute high court actions in the early hours of Wednesday morning and other interventions which have led to at least 19 people not boarding the plane.
The Home Office said up to 20 people would be placed on the charter flight destined for France and Germany. The Guardian knows of 19 who either had their removal directions deferred by the Home Office or stayed by the high court a few hours ago, or who believed they would be on the flight but then found out that the Home Office had never set removal directions for them.
The 19 who have a stay of execution now have an opportunity to make more detailed asylum representations in the UK. The Home Office argued that all had previously been in another European country – France or Germany – and should have their asylum claims dealt with there under a process known as the Dublin convention, under which an asylum claim can be dealt with in the first safe European country an asylum seeker arrives in.
The vulnerability of many of those threatened with removal to mainland Europe is stark, with at least nine thought to be suffering from PTSD, at least eight survivors of torture, and seven at risk of suicide, with several having attempted suicide since arriving in the UK .At least three are victims of trafficking and at least three are suffering from physical injuries acquired through torture.
Many of the asylum seekers were detained in the last week of July. The charter flight was due to take off at 7.45am but the Home Office was not disclosing the location the plane was due to fly from.
The majority of the asylum seekers due to fly had their tickets deferred by the Home Office before any high court action was required. Three cases were the subject of emergency out-of-hours high court action late on Tuesday evening and into the early hours of Wednesday morning. All three were granted orders staying their removal in order for more detailed submissions about their asylum claims to be made.
They lodged pre-action protocols on Monday, the first stage in the judicial review process, to try to halt the Home Office action to remove them.
Those involved in the legal action come from countries including Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait and Yemen.
The 19 people due to fly were represented by Duncan Lewis solicitors.
Helen Baron, a trainee solicitor at Duncan Lewis Solicitors, said: “We are extremely relieved that 19 clients at risk of removal on August 12 have had their removal directions deferred by the Home Office, stayed by the court or confirmed that the Home Office never in fact set directions for their removal. Many are extremely vulnerable and have suffered further trauma from being detained and their fear of removal after surviving horrors in Yemen, Kuwait, Iran and Afghanistan as well as en route to the UK. We will continue to fight for their protection in the UK.”
Home Office sources confirmed that the charter flight was due to take off on Wednesday morning but declined to confirm how many people would be onboard. It is understood that they will issue a statement later .
The Home Office does not release comprehensive statistics on those who arrive in the UK in small boats, but analysis by PA Media puts the number who have crossed the Channel this year at more than 4,100, The home secretary, Priti Patel, previously said the small boat arrivals would become an “infrequent phenomenon”. But instead the numbers crossing have increased. She has appointed a former Royal Marine, Dan O’Mahoney, as “clandestine Channel threat commander”.
Humanitarian organisations and migration experts have urged the government to create safe and legal routes to the UK for asylum seekers, to reduce the number of people making risky sea journeys, and to strengthen family reunion provisions and offer humanitarian visas.