The Home Office has gone ahead with a charter flight deporting asylum seekers this morning despite a stark warning from immigration solicitors that these individuals may have been denied access to justice.
The flight, which departed at around 7am, was removing people to Germany, Austria and Switzerland under the Dublin convention – a law that requires asylum seekers to claim asylum in the first safe EU country they arrive in and not move from one to another.
But lawyers said many of those scheduled to be on the charter plane were potential victims of trafficking or torture, meaning they should be exempt from this rule until their vulnerability is assessed.
At least 16 people who had been issued removal directions were granted last minute reprieve after solicitors intervened and challenged their deportation on the basis that they were trafficking victims. It is not known how many people were on the flight.
Legal practitioners also raised urgent concerns directly to the Home Secretary that those on the flight did not have adequate access to justice while in immigration removal centres prior to their deportation, as required by Home Office policy. This may have led to deportees not having the opportunity to disclose that they were trafficking victims.
It comes after a controversial charter flight to Jamaica last week amid serious concerns over access to justice in detention centres, which resulted in a Court of Appeal ruling that prevented the majority of the planned deportations.
Immigration lawyer Isabella Kirwan, of Duncan Lewis Solicitors, said she and her team had successfully deferred the removal of six people due to be on the flight, all of whom had disclosed indicators of exploitation to the Home Office which she said should have triggered referals to the National Referral Mechaism (NRM), the UK's framework or identifying victims of modern slavery and trafficking.
A letter to Priti Patel from Detention Action and ILPA warned there had been minimal solicitors available in at least three removal centres last week, and expressed "grave concerns" that several firms working iin detention were regularly in breach of their contractual obligations providing either no or poor advice to those detained.
Bella Sankey, director of Detention Action, said the government had pressed ahead with the charter flight "despite widespread concerns that its system for the provision of legal advice in detention centres was in meltdown".
A Home Office spokesperson 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.”