UK Home Office charters its first ever deportation flight to Vietnam

Diane Taylor
·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA</span>
Photograph: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA

Charities and human rights campaigners have expressed alarm at a decision by the Home Office to charter its first ever deportation flight to Vietnam.

The Guardian has learned that the flight is due to take off on Wednesday, though it is unclear why the government has decided to remove the Vietnamese nationals at a time when deportations are at a historically low level due to the pandemic.

Migrant rights organisations are concerned that those due to be removed have not had full access to legal and other advice due to the pandemic. It is understood that at least one of those due to fly tomorrow has lodged last-minute legal submissions based on being a potential victim of trafficking.

A ticket issued by the Home Office to one Vietnamese national booked on tomorrow’s flight states: “You are the subject of a deportation order … Directions have now been given for your removal from the United Kingdom on a direct flight to Noi Bai International Airport, Hanoi, Vietnam on 21 April, 2021.”

While the individual circumstances of each of those due to fly tomorrow are not known, human rights groups warned that many Vietnamese migrants are subjected to various forms of exploitation in the UK such as forced cultivation of cannabis plants in illegal indoor farms, sex work or work in nail bars. Vietnam is one of the top source countries for trafficking to the UK.

Some Vietnamese nationals pay smugglers about £30,000 for a passage to what they believe will be a country where their economic prospects are better for themselves and their families than they are in Vietnam.

The mortal dangers of this hit the headlines after the tragic deaths of 39 Vietnamese migrants discovered dead in a lorry in Essex in October 2019.

Related: Essex lorry tragedy must spur greater effort to stop trafficking from Vietnam

Pre-pandemic a rota of immigration lawyers were visiting immigration removal centres. These consultations are now mostly carried out remotely. Many charities previously conducting visits to detention centres have not been doing so during the pandemic.

William Neal, detention outreach officer at Jesuit Refugee Service UK, an organisation providing support to some of those facing removal to Vietnam tomorrow, who are now detained in Harmondsworth immigration removal centre near Heathrow, said: “We have often seen how charter flights are used to enforce blanket removal without sufficient legal scrutiny, and without proper consideration of the human impact of removal.”

“We support individuals faced with removal on charter flights, and see the fear and uncertainty this can cause. The charter flight tomorrow is therefore of deep concern. This is part of a system that wants to avoid transparency, and the basic safeguards that can offer to individuals. Some of the individuals we support, who are facing removal tomorrow, are survivors of trafficking and modern slavery in the UK. “

Bella Sankey, director of Detention Action said: “Charter flights create a perverse incentive for mass expulsions and – history shows – result in grave injustices including in life and death decision-making. The system for accessing legal advice for those affected is in disarray meaning there is a risk that survivors of trafficking or those who have fled violence are slated for deportation. This experimental flight is dangerous politicking of the worst kind.”

The Home Office declined to comment.