Select Committee on Home Affairs Fourth Report

Removal from the country

103. Most departures are on scheduled commercial flights, and special needs cases—those who "have demonstrated or declared an intention to resist removal, or for whom an escort is deemed necessary for other reasons, for example because of health (including mental health) considerations"—are accompanied out of the country by an escort provided by the company Loss Prevention International Ltd, which currently holds the sole contract with the Home Office for these services.[133]

104. Removal may still fail at this point, for a number of reasons. Mr Michael Payne, of Wackenhut, told us in evidence that many of the problems which can frustrate removal at this late stage relate to the use of scheduled flights to remove individuals. Mr Tom Davies, of Loss Prevention International, told us that the decision to carry individuals subject to removal is at the discretion of the airline and the pilot, and that some airlines refuse to carry such individuals, other than where the airline itself had been responsible for bringing that person into the country. Mr Davies said that some airlines were more co-operative than others, and that "if it were not for... the support we get from British Airways, the number of scheduled flight removals that we would achieve out of this country would be virtually nil".[134]

105. We were told that airlines, through the International Air Transport Association, also place a limit on the number of immigration places available on each flight.[135] That limit is one escorted removal and three unescorted removals. The reason for this is "the other paying passengers' perception of their safety".[136] Mr Payne told us that problems can arise when this limited number of seats is over-booked by the Immigration Service. He said that there was no co-ordination between the different immigration offices and ports booking seats for removals, with the result that "we arrive at the airport with the individual, arrive at the gate and discover that there is an over-booking and the captain will not take more than his allocated number".[137]

106. It is disappointing that removal should be frustrated by lack of administrative co-ordination. We recommend that the booking of seats on scheduled flights for the purpose of removal is centrally co-ordinated in the Immigration and Nationality Directorate to avoid over-booking the number of allocated immigration seats.

107. A further problem arising out of the use of scheduled flights for removals is the capacity of the asylum seeker to frustrate his or her removal by disruptive behaviour. Mr Davies told us that "the major reasons why the captains refuse to fly or the removal is frustrated is because the detainee actually becomes violent, screams, shouts and tries to attack our officers and you just end up with something that looks particularly unsavoury and the captain says, 'No, thank you very much indeed'".[138] Mr Payne described asylum seekers who remove their clothes to prevent removal taking place, and said that "never a week goes by when [they] do not have two or three" such incidents.[139]

108. A possible solution to some of these problems, we heard, was to extend the use of charter flights for removal. When used to remove individuals, charter flights are clearly very expensive, but can be cost-effective if used to carry groups of people. Mr Davies told us that since April 2000, Kosovans and Albanians had been returned to the Balkans in this way on a weekly basis, and that "per head, the cost of removing an Albanian or a Kosovan [ ... ] using the charter [ ... ] is one-tenth of that using a scheduled aircraft".[140] Moreover, removal using a charter flight, we were told, is more humane, as "the whole thing is done without being in the public eye [and therefore] the whole temperature of the operation is reduced considerably".[141] The Minister of State told us that "we are very keen to use charters [ ... ] where the volume of people going to one place supports that".[142]


109. In certain circumstances, an asylum seeker at the end of the legal process as far as his or her asylum claim is concerned still has the right to make an appeal against removal from the country, on human rights grounds. Since October 2000, appellants have been required to state reasons why their human rights have breached by the refusal of their asylum claim, as part of the appeal process.[143] However, for those who applied for asylum before this date, the appeal process can proceed without human rights grounds being raised until the removal stage. Finally, if the situation of the individual has changed between the appeal decision and removal, such that new grounds for claiming breach of human rights have come into being, a further appeal may be brought.[144] Where removal from the country is very speedy, and detention is used for only a brief period, if at all, we have been told that problems can arise concerning the observance of due process. We heard that the Immigration Service removes people from their homes and from the country early in the morning and late at night, and at weekends, and the Immigration Law Practitioners' Association told us that this makes it impossible for contact to be made with legal advisers before the asylum seeker has left the UK.[145] Bail for Immigration Detainees said that, in some cases, notice of removal was not given to legal representatives, and the Refugee Council said that "legal advisers have difficulty finding out what is happening" when removals take place.[146] The Tamil Information Centre, an organisation involved in "information, human rights, community development and refugee work", gave us an example of a case in which legal representatives became aware that removal of an individual had taken place "only after they were informed by his friends" and said that representatives "find it extremely difficult to contact the Enforcement Unit".[147] The Law Society stated that "there should be a duty on all immigration officers to inform a person they are attempting to remove about their rights of appeal on human rights grounds and the availability of legal advice".[148]

110. We are anxious that nothing be done to inject any more delay into the proceedings than is absolutely necessary. We agree, however, that when removal is imminent, notice of removal and information as to the whereabouts of those to be removed should be given as a matter of course to legal representatives in good time for them to make representations.


111. We also received evidence stating that removals are carried out which split up families. The Tamil Information Centre said that:

individuals have been removed, while their immediate family remains in Britain. Husbands have been deported while the wife and children remain.[149]

112. The Association of Visitors to Immigration Detainees gave us the following two examples:

V family—distressed couple who had been brought to the Removal Centre prior to removal. Immigration officials had forcibly separated them from their seven year-old son and they had no knowledge of his whereabouts, or indeed if he would accompany them on their flight that evening. Our staff spent considerable time tracing the son to Heathrow Airport, where he was to be re-united with his parents prior to removal.

A was detained while signing [ ... ] his wife was seven months pregnant with severe complications and spent the night after A was detained in hospital. The couple's two year-old child had to be cared for by social services at home.[150]

113. Mr Tom Davies, of Loss Prevention International, the company carrying out escorted removals from the UK, said that separation only occurred in very particular circumstances:

You will occasionally remove a mother and children and leave the father behind because he has disappeared. I can think of one or possibly two cases where we have removed a husband and children because the wife has disappeared.[151]

114. We believe that the welfare of the child should be paramount, and that separation of a child of an asylum seeker from both parents by removal is nearly always unjustified.


115. We have received several accounts of removals which have taken place, or been attempted, inappropriately. Wackenhut sent us details of a case in which removal should not have been attempted: that of a 12 year-old child who had been operated on a week earlier to have his spleen removed and who had "tubes and wires coming out of various parts of his body".[152] While the Immigration Service was apparently aware of the child's condition, and had sanctioned the removal, Wackenhut was not notified beforehand. The removal was eventually halted at the airport when the child's mother produced a letter from the hospital confirming that he was unfit to travel and needed regular medical supervision. The Immigration Service accordingly cancelled the removal directions and granted the family temporary admission.[153]

116. Several organisations have drawn our attention to cases in which individuals have been removed mistakenly, before the end of their legal case, or when asylum or leave to remain has been granted. The Law Society informed us of a case in which:

A child client of one of our members was arrested for a driving offence. He could not remember his home phone number, having always read the number from his mobile phone. He was carrying the mobile at the time of his arrest but it was not charged. The police officers refused to charge the mobile for him. The child was unable to contact his mother and was removed from the country unlawfully as his mother had a pending application under the Human Rights Act. He was outside of the UK for three weeks before the Immigration Service returned him. During this time his mother did not know what had happened to him.[154]

117. The Tamil Information Centre said that asylum seekers with the right to remain in this country for the duration of their appeal have been returned to Sri Lanka even though appeal rights were still pending:

An example is the case of [name supplied] who was deported to Sri Lanka on 24 April 2001 and the Home Office acknowledged that the case had not been finally resolved. The Home Office was ordered to return [him] to the UK from Sri Lanka.[155]

118. When questioned as to how mistakes such as this could have arisen, the Minister of State told us that:

There have been a very small number of cases [ ... ] where people have been removed before their process has finally ended. That has usually been as a result of a very late representation not being communicated to the removal centre in time to stop that removal.[156]

119. It is clearly unacceptable that any removals should take place when status has been granted or before the final determination has been arrived at. We recommend that mistaken removals are recorded, audited and the number of cases published each year. We further recommend that the Immigration and Nationality Directorate operate checking mechanisms to ensure that, as far as humanly possible, this does not happen. In particular we suggest that it should be made clear to the companies responsible for removals that if their staff are concerned about a particular case they should clear the matter with higher management and the Immigration Service before proceeding.


120. We have received several complaints against the Immigration Service and escorting companies which amount to serious accusations of mistreatment. The Association of Visitors to Immigration Detainees told us that "when men are taken to the airport for removal they are sometimes assaulted in the vans". They gave the following example:

IK was recently taken to the airport from a Removal Centre and held while boarding the plane. He resisted removal and was returned to the Removal Centre. He accused the guards of beating him and spraying pepper in his face in the van. He certainly had bruising and eye problems needing medical attention over a number of days when returned to the Centre.[157]

121. Emma Cole, a postgraduate student who conducted a research project looking at the treatment of families seeking asylum, reported complaints of misconduct by removal staff. In one example, she said:

The family had shown medical evidence to a pilot, stating that the mother should not be made to fly due to her mental ill­health. The pilot refused to take them. The family claim that they were then assaulted by private security staff (employed by the Immigration Service to conduct removals).[158]

122. Ms Nicola Rogers, of the Immigration Law Practitioners' Association, claimed that "once a person is put on a plane and they are successfully removed, the chances of them following up a complaint against Wackenhut or against the Immigration Service is nil".[159] Mrs Sally Tarshish of the Association of Visitors to Immigration Detainees told us that the system could be improved by the creation of an external monitoring body to carry out checks on escorts and removals, much as the statutory Visiting Committees scrutinise conditions in Removal Centres.[160]

123. The allegations of mistreatment were robustly challenged when we put them to Wackenhut and Loss Prevention International, the firms responsible for escorting failed asylum seekers out of the country. Mr Michael Payne of Wackenhut told us "the number of complaints that are justified [ ... ] is really very, very small; I would say less than five per year substantiated complaints".[161]

124. We recommend that consideration be given to extending the role of Visiting Committees to cover removals.

133   Ev 152, para 1.1 Back

134   Q 211 Back

135   Q 208 [Mr Davies]; The International Air Transport Association is an organisation representing approximately 280 airlines around the world, the flights of which comprise more than 95 percent of all international scheduled air traffic. One of the functions of the Association is to provide a channel through which governments can liaise with airlines as a group to develop regulations, standards and law ( Back

136   Q 210 [Mr Davies] Back

137   Q 207 Back

138   Q 212 Back

139   Q 215 Back

140   Q 220 Back

141   Q 222 Back

142   Q 654 Back

143   The Immigration and Asylum Appeals (One-Stop Procedure) Regulations 2000 (S.I., 2000, No. 2244) Back

144   Ev 97 Back

145   Ev 144, para 27 Back

146   Ev 127; Ev 166, para 3.17 Back

147   Ev 172, paras 2.2-2.3 Back

148   Ev 151, para 3.3 Back

149   Ev 172, para 2.4 Back

150   Ev 121 Back

151   Q252 Back

152   Ev 180 Back

153   Ev 181 Back

154   Ev 151, para 4.2 Back

155   Ev 172, para 2.6 Back

156   Q 669 Back

157   Ev 120-1 Back

158   Ev 130 Back

159   Q 560 Back

160   Ev 121 Back

161   Q 247 Back

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