Hassan Hamad Sharif was deported from the UK on 3 September, aged 17. He had arrived in the country three months earlier, travelling across the Channel on a small boat after a treacherous journey from Syria. The teenager had hoped to build a new life in Britain, but his plans were dashed when he was forced onto a charter flight an sent back to Spain.
Days later, Hassan is back in Calais, living on the streets and trying again to reach the UK by boat. He is among a number of asylum seekers who have been forcibly removed by the Home Office in recent months after crossing the Channel, and have returned to northern France within days or weeks to try again.
Most say they are trying to reach the UK again because they feel unwelcome or unable to stay legally in the EU country to which they were returned, while others say wish to reunite with family members in Britain.
Campaigners say the fact that asylum seekers are returning to northern France after being deported demonstrates that the UK government’s plan to remove almost 1,000 people under the Dublin regulations in order to curb Channel crossings is “all tough talk with no sensible action”, and accuse the UK of "failing take its legal and moral responsibilities seriously".
The Home Office is reported to have returned 185 people under the Dublin III law – which in some circumstances enables countries to return people to other EU nations where they have already sought asylum – since October 2018, with 37 returned since August 2020. Another charter flight is scheduled for 17 September.
Hassan left Syria in 2019 after his grandparents, whom he had been living with, both died. His parents had been killed in the war, and he didn’t know where his siblings were. He says he sold all of the family’s possessions and travelled through Libya and Algeria to get to Spain, where he had his fingerprints taken.
“It was a very difficult time. When I arrived in Spain the police arrested me and put me in jail without food,” Hassan explains. “They forced me to give my fingerprints, but I didn’t want to stay there. I have cousins in England. I sold everything I had in Syria to save money to go to England. That is my dream.”
He left Spain after two days and headed for Calais, before arriving in the UK in June after paying £3,000 to cross the Channel in a boat. He told the authorities he was 18, because he says that was the advice he was given by other asylum seekers, who said that if they knew he was a child he would be held by police and not allowed to work. “I had nobody else to listen to. I don’t have parents. I didn’t know what was best,” he says.
The teenager was placed in a hotel in Manchester by the Home Office, where he met an old friend by chance – another teenager – who lived in the same village in Syria. However, after two months in Britain, Hassan was detained and told he was going to be deported back to Spain.
“I felt like my life was finished and destroyed. I felt like I wanted to kill myself,” he says, remembering the moment he was found out he was being removed from the UK. “But then I thought maybe I will stay in Spain, get documents here, learn Spanish, make a new life there.”
However, within hours of their deportation, Hassan and other Syrian asylum seekers on the same charter flight found themselves on the streets of Madrid, unable to access support from the authorities.
At this point, the teenager decided that his only option was to try to reach England again. An activist in Spain offered to buy him a train ticket back to France. Now he is living in Calais with hundreds of other migrants hoping to cross the Channel.
“The police left us in the street and told us to leave Spain. Nobody accepted us or helped us,” says Hassan. “We didn’t have money, only some pounds and we didn’t know how to exchange them. We lived in the street for two days. For two days we didn’t have anything.”
The Independent has spoken to three other asylum seekers who have been deported from the UK to EU countries in recent months, and have returned to northern France within days or weeks.
One 32-year-old Syrian national was removed to Germany in August after arriving to the UK by boat in March. He left Germany for Calais on the same day that he was deported, saying he did not wish to stay in the country because he knew no one there and wanted to join his uncle and cousins in the UK.
Another, Hassan al-Shari, 36, from Kuwait, was deported from Britain to France in August after reaching the Kent coast on a boat earlier in the year. One arrival in France, he was detained for seven hours before being told he must leave the country without delay, because the authorities had previously refused his asylum claim.
He says he cannot return to Kuwait because he is from the “Bidoon” community, meaning the authorities view him as an illegal immigrant and won’t let him enter. He says that if he can’t reach the UK he will continue to sleep rough in Calais because he has “no other option”.
James Wilson, deputy director of Detention Action, said the fact that people deported under Dublin III were back in Calais preparing to cross the Channel again came as “no surprise”.
“The government's approach to curbing crossings is all tough talk with no sensible action, and focused more on pleasing Nigel Farage than protecting people, including unaccompanied children, from making death-defying journeys,” he added.
“If the government wants to prevent more loss of life on their watch, they must take this opportunity to heed repeated warnings, and create safe and legal routes for asylum seekers to come and pursue their legal right to have their claims heard in the UK.”
Sonia Lenegan, legal director of the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (ILPA), said it was “unclear” why the government thought removing people under the Dublin regulations would stop Channel crossings.
“People have a variety of reasons for wanting to come to the UK, for example many have family here, and so it is unsurprising to hear that they wish to try again,” she said.
"The Home Office should ensure that the 1,000 people referred to by Chris Philps as facing removal before the end of the year have access to legal advice at an early stage, if the Home Office wishes to avoid further last minute court action."
Tom Kemp, spokesperson for SOAS Detainee Support and Nottingham Trent University researcher, said the government's schedule of enforced mass removals was not only “traumatising" for the those targeted, but it also marked a “failure” by the UK to take its legal and moral responsibilities seriously.
He added: “The deportation of a 17-year old child, left homeless on the streets of Madrid is just the latest example of the Home Office's well-documented, callous and intentionally neglectful malpractice […] It is no surprise that people who have been treated this badly continue to move to seek safety and security.”
The Home Office has not responded to a request for comment.