Saturday, December 31, 2011

£42million bill to remove failed asylum seekers: How British taxpayer funding for secretive flights has QUADRUPLED in past seven years

The Government has spent £42million on secretive flights to send failed asylum seekers back home, it was revealed today. British taxpayers are forking out a staggering £500,000 each month to fund expensive air travel arrangements for foreign nationals who have lost bids to stay in the country.

Entire aircraft are rented by UK Borders Agency staff to send up to 100 immigrants back home at a time to prevent passengers on scheduled services witnessing 'distressing' removals. The average cost of enforcing the removal of a failed asylum seeker was £11,000 in 2005, but this figure had risen to up to £17,000 by 2009. Including accommodation and support costs, some cases that year cost as much as £25,600.

Figures obtained under Freedom Of Information laws show the shadowy flights - which do not show on airport departure screens - have quadrupled in the last seven years.

In 2004, the data shows £1.73million was spent on sending back those who had failed in bids to stay in the UK. That soared to £10.4million in 2009/10 and £8.5million in the past year. Over the seven year period the total is estimated to be £42million.

Figures show a record number of foreign nationals, 42,552, were either forcibly removed or went home voluntarily last year. Those journeys were undertaken on either charter or scheduled flights, mostly from UK airports.

A total of 306,535 had been repatriated in the seven years up to September, the data shows.

According to government data the charter flight programme 'initially' operated to Kosovo and Albania only. Now the scheme focuses 'almost exclusively' on long-haul destinations and regular flights are carried out to Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Sri Lanka and Jamaica.

But foreign governments have turned back some flights because of 'paperwork' problems. In one case an entire plane-load of Iraqis were refused re-entry to capital Baghdad because they no longer had documents to prove their nationality.

Planes are provided by commercial airlines for removals to countries including war-torn Congo and Afghanistan as well as Nigeria and Sri Lanka. It is thought a number of individuals were removed to Sri Lanka just two weeks ago by a European holiday airline. A full list of airlines involved in the scheme is not publicly available.

However, a series of 'regular flights' take off from major airports including Heathrow and Gatwick and are jointly co-ordinated by EU border agency Frontex.

Home Office officials have insisted the increase in expenditure is due to the expansion of the original scheme's destination list.

The National Coalition Of Anti-Deportation campaigns today accused the government of 'hiding' the flights from the public. Spokesperson Lisa Matthews said: 'We are extremely concerned about the increase in the use of charter flights to remove individuals from the UK.

'Charter flights are shrouded in secrecy, and if the UKBA believes it operates a robust asylum system that is fit-for-purpose, there is no need to operate in this deceptive way.'

Ms Matthews also expressed concern that private hire security firms are using 'dangerous force' to restrain foreign nationals after Angolan refugee Jimmy Mubenga died on a flight before it took off from Heathrow Airport last year. She added: 'There is clear evidence of dangerous use of force being employed by the escort companies enforcing removals, leading to speculation that charter flights are being used to hide these activities from the public, particularly following the widespread outcry at the killing of Jimmy Mubenga.'

And she criticised the government after 713 'disruptive removals' led to aborted attempts to send foreign nationals home from January to August this year. Ms Matthews added: 'These removals are disruptive because UKBA are trying to send back so many individuals to persecution, mistreatment and torture in their home countries and the individuals are therefore extremely distressed and fearing for their lives.

'Without access to justice, and without an asylum system that gets decisions right first time, the UK will continue to waste huge sums of money, huge sums it simply cannot afford.'

The UK Border Agency defended the removals insisting it was appropriate that those with no right to be in the country should be sent home. An agency spokesperson said: 'It is right that those with no right to be here should go home and flights of this type still represents the most cost effective way of removing people.

'The increased expenditure on charter flights from the UK reflects the general rise in the cost of air travel since 2004 and a greater number of flights to countries outside Europe.'


UK Immigration and Ireland sign agreement for enhanced border controls

The UK and Irish governments have now signed an agreement to continue with the Common Travel Area, a passport-free zone that comprises Ireland, Great Britain, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. According to UK immigration authorities, the agreement will help reduce illegal immigration. Although the stricter controls may make it more difficult to gain entry into the area, once you are in you can travel freely between the participating countries.

The agreement updates border controls for initial entry to the Common Travel Area which has existed between the countries since Ireland left the UK. The new agreement will feature enhanced electronic border control systems, which are aimed at identifying incoming passengers who do not already have the right to enter the Common Travel Area before they arrive at an international border.

People travelling within the Common Travel Area do not generally need to carry a passport or national identity document for immigration purposes.

The agreement also stated both countries immigration departments commit to sharing important immigration related information, such as fingerprint biometrics, particularly from 'high risk' individuals, as part of the visa issuing process and to help crack down on illegal immigration.

"This agreement will help us quickly refuse those with poor immigration records, identify asylum shoppers and speed up the removal process in those cases where people have entered the Common Travel Area," said Immigration minister Damian Green.

"The benefits the Common Travel Area brings to travellers and the economies of our countries are well-established but it should not be exploited by those with no right to be here," he added.


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