THE Home Office is “failing to respect” the legal rights of asylum-seekers in its “relentless” drive to deport them as quickly as possible, lawyers and campaigners have told the Morning Star.
Immigration lawyers have seen a rise in “poorly made decisions” by the department to deport asylum-seekers on charter flights.
A new wave of deportations has specifically targeted asylum-seekers who cross the Channel in small boats.
Dozens of people have been returned to EU member countries as part of Home Secretary Priti Patel’s pledge to deport 1,000 refugees before the end of the year.
Since August, charter flights have taken place at a rate of almost two per week.
Removals are being carried out under the Dublin III Regulation which allows a state to return asylum-seekers to any “safe” country the migrant had passed through on their way to Britain.
There are exceptions to this rule, such as if asylum applicants are trafficking victims, have close family members or ties in the country or have severe medical conditions.
Duncan Lewis Solicitors claims that these factors are being regularly overlooked by the Home Office because of the speed at which it is making decisions.
A representative from the firm told the Morning Star: “The Home Office seems to be rushing through decisions for people who crossed the Channel in an attempt to remove them as quickly as possible.
“Because of this, we have seen many poorly made decisions that fail to respect our clients’ rights — rights that are protected in UK law.”
The firm described the department’s wrongful attempts to remove people as “either a wholescale failure or an unlawful oversight by the Home Office, which has potentially devastating consequences for the people who face removal.”
Many potentially unlawful deportations have been halted by legal action in recent months, including a charter flight to remove 30 people to France on October 8 which left with just one person.
Ms Patel has claimed that removals were being “frustrated” by “last-minute legal claims.”
But new research suggests that asylum-seekers are being denied legal advice until a few days before they are due to be deported.
Disturbingly, the report, which takes in the experiences of asylum-seekers held in the Yarl’s Wood facility, also suggests that the Home Office has made no attempt to identify whether people might have a right to stay in the country.
Records of asylum screening interviews, shared with campaign group Movement for Justice, showed that in six cases there were “a significant number of questions marked ‘not asked,’ including questions about torture, trafficking and family in the UK.”
Antonia Bright of the group told the Star: “[The questions are] on their forms, but they chose not to ask. That is how they’ve chosen to conduct the system. It’s setting them up to fail.”
The report, which is based on four weeks of interviews with 20 people held at Yarl’s Wood in September, suggests that a lack of legal support is making it difficult for asylum-seekers to challenge decisions to remove them, even if such decisions are unlawful.
Duncan Lewis said it was regularly seeing asylum-seekers who have not received legal advice until after they were given removal directions. The firm expressed “serious concerns” about refugees’ access to justice.
It said it had also seen cases of people held in detention throughout their stay in Britain, making it difficult for them to access legal advice.
“Access to justice is one of the central pillars of the UK’s legal system, but in its relentless drive to address the Channel crossings the Home Office seems to be willing to ignore it.”
After asylum-seekers cross the Channel, many are taken to Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre (IRC), a former detention centre for women now used as a short-term holding facility for Channel crossing asylum-seekers, for a period of five to seven days before being moved to hostel accommodation for several weeks or months.
Many then end up in Brook House IRC near Gatwick where they are deported.
Movement for Justice maintain that during this process, asylum-seekers’ ability to seek legal advice is “frustrated” at “every stage” by the Home Office in order to create a “Dover to deportation pipeline.”
The campaigners found that asylum-seekers in Yarl’s Wood IRC were not able to get a solicitor. Some were given a list of numbers of solicitors and legal groups after several days but lack of phone credit and language difficulties meant it was “impossible for them to secure representation,” the group said.
Other campaign groups have also raised concerns that asylum-seekers are being rushed through the system without access to justice.
Care4Calais, which normally operates in northern France and is now providing services in 30 asylum-seeker hostels across the country, said that around 90 per cent of people didn’t know they needed a lawyer or had any knowledge of how to get one.
The temporary sites, which asylum-seekers were moved into after the Covid-19 outbreak, don’t have legal surgeries or the same access to charity support that people would normally have in official accommodation.
A Yemeni volunteer, who preferred not to be named, has been trying to fill the void of information by connecting new arrivals with solicitors and charities through a WhatsApp group.
He told the Star that before people join the group, most “don’t know the regulations, they don’t know what to do.
“Every day they have a lot of questions. They are given no legal advice, nothing,” he said.
Shreeta Lakhani, a member of Soas Detainee Support said the government was “abusing” the Dublin regulations before Britain leaves the EU in January, to “dodge its legal responsibility
to protect asylum-seekers’ human rights.”
“They are rushing through the forced deportations of people who have fled war and torture to unsafe situations.
“This means that accessing legal advice and support becomes more difficult.”
Bail for Immigration Detainees director Celia Clarke said: “It is utterly objectionable that the Home Secretary should seek to not only demonise people making dangerous journeys, but also their lives here once they’ve reached our shores … by incarcerating them and denying them access to the legal advice and representation that is their right.”
Care4Calais director Clare Moseley told the Star that the constant removals were inflicting a sense of terror among asylum-seekers staying at temporary accommodation, where people are taken into detention on a near daily basis.
“I couldn’t even put into words the level of fear we’re seeing,” she said.
“We’re seeing people who are suicidal, people who can’t eat. There was a guy I saw in Manchester the other day who told me he’s sleeping on the floor in his friend’s room because he’s too scared to sleep alone because he thinks someone is going to come for him in the middle of the night.
“And that’s in England, you know. It’s horrible.”
The Home Office said: “We are determined to fix our broken asylum system, making it firmer and fairer.
“We will seek to stop abuse of the system, while ensuring our asylum system provides safety to those fleeing persecution, oppression or tyranny and is compassionate towards those who need our help.”