According to reports in several British newspapers, the British government is planning to provide weekly flights to return migrants arriving in the UK via the Channel. The plans were revealed after a freedom of information request made by the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph.
The UK Home Office (interior ministry) revealed that "at least 1,000 people are set to be removed from the country and sent to France, Italy and Germany," reported the British newspaper The Evening Standard.
The news was taken from a Daily Telegraph report on Friday (September 18), which said that the Home Office had responded to its freedom of information request regarding returns and confirmed that it was planning "more flights in the coming weeks and months" in order to "increase the number of returnees countries are willing to accept on each flight."
According to the Evening Standard and the BBC, one flight already took off last Tuesday. The BBC reported that aboard were "14 people," 10 of whom were returned to Germany and four to France. Those on board "included nationals from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Kuwait and Yemen."
A second flight bound for Spain, according to the Evening Standard was blocked from taking off "following last minute intervention from lawyers."
Home office criticized in parliamentary report
According to the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee, the Home Office "returned, or helped to return, just over 13,100 people without leave to remain in the year to November 2019." 5,600 people returned voluntarily. The committee pointed out that those agreeing to return voluntarily had "dropped from an average of 1,200 a month in 2015 to approximately 460 a month in 2019."
The committee published a report into the performance of the Home Office’s immigration enforcement on Friday, September 18, and found that the institution "did not know how many people currently reside in the UK illegally." It said its last estimate was "made 15 years ago in 2005, and was around 430,000 people." It noted that more recent estimates from other organizations "suggest the number might have doubled."
Is the 'hostile environment' working?
The committee also found that the Home Office had not published data which "allow it to demonstrate the impact of its work or policies." For instance, it said that one of the "central planks" of the so-called "hostile environment" towards migration in the UK was to block recourse to public funds to those who did not meet the criteria for asylum. The Committee said that the Home Office had failed to show whether allowing people "no recourse to public funds" has "any meaningful impact on how likely a person is to return to their country of origin."
The Committee further said that although the Home Office was stopping “increasing numbers of people from entering the country illegally,” it couldn’t prove whether that was because they were actually catching more people, or just that there were "simply more attempts."
Legal challenges block deportation
It said many of the people the UK government hoped to remove were blocked from deportation by "late legal challenges to removal." As a result of these challenges, the Home Office released "14,900 or 62%, of immigration detainees from immigration removal centers last year."
The committee found that the Home Office's belief is that it was the fault of these legal challenges which are being used to "delay removal" but noted that the Home Office had not provided "any evidence that it has tried to actively understand and manage these challenges."
The Public Accounts Committee is chaired by the Labour MP Meg Hillier. In a summary of the report, the authors said they were "concerned" that the Home Office was risking making decisions "based on anecdote, assumption and prejudice."
400 million pounds a year on immigration enforcement
It said the government was spending 400 million pounds each year on immigration enforcement and yet had “no idea what impact it has achieved” for that sum. Currently, according to the committee, the immigration enforcement department deploys 5,000 staff at a cost of 392 million pounds for the year 2019-2020. It noted the department had "faced an 11% real-terms reduction in its resource budget since 2015-16."
It recommended that the government seek to analyze and understand the real size of the community of migrants living without papers in the UK. The Committee also found that the government is "not sufficiently prepared to safeguard the status of individuals while also implementing a new immigration system and managing its response to the COVID-19 pandemic."
The BBC also reported that even greater numbers of migrants had crossed the Channel in September so far, than in the whole month of August which previously held the record for the greatest number of migrant crossings. By last Wednesday, September 16, the BBC reported that 1,487 people had crossed the Channel in September. The total figure for crossings in 2020 stood at 6,524 last week.
Despite the criticisms of its immigration policy by the Public Accounts Committee, the Home Office told the Evening Standard that it was "determined to remove those who have no right to remain in this country." It added that the people it had sent back to France and Germany all had "outstanding asylum claims," in those countries.