16:14, August 25 71 0 theguardian.com

2020-08-25 16:14:03
Asylum seekers in last-minute UK legal bid to prevent removal

Dozens of asylum seekers who arrived in the UK on small boats are due to be put on charter flights over the next two days, while lawyers have launched last-minute high court challenges to prevent their removal.

At least seven have mounted challenges which will be heard on Tuesday evening to try to prevent them being forcibly removed from the UK.

The asylum seekers due to be removed come from a variety of countries including Sudan, Yemen and Iraq. Some have survived torture and have a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, while others went on hunger strike after being put into detention. Some are potential victims of trafficking. Some have been on round-the-clock suicide watch.

The Home Office has chartered a flight to France and Germany for Wednesday and a second flight to Spain has been chartered for Thursday. Another charter flight for small boat arrivals has been planned for 3 September.

The Home Office is removing the asylum seekers under the Dublin procedure, under which people can be returned to the first safe EU country they are known to have spent time in.

One of the asylum seekers from Yemen, who has been given a ticket for one of the charter flights and who is on suicide watch, said: “When they handed me this ticket I thought ‘I’m finished now. There is nothing else I can do now to save my life’.”

Another said that all those due to be removed imminently would be left at the mercy of gangs and smugglers once again.

Bella Sankey, director of the charity Detention Action, said: “It is to our national shame, that during a global pandemic our government has spent precious resources locking up self-harming torture and trafficking survivors and is now spending thousands more trying to remove them to EU countries. The Dublin returns system is inhumane and unnecessary and we hope that the UK’s participation in it is now nearing an end.”

Georgia Banks, a lawyer at Duncan Lewis, which is challenging some of the removals, said: “The Home Office approach to removal of individuals under the Dublin III procedure is relentless. These people have suffered through unimaginable journeys to the UK and many have good reasons to have their claim considered here, but the Home Office insists on removing them despite their vulnerabilities and strong cases.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We will always seek to remove migrants who have travelled through a safe country and have no right to remain in the UK – people should claim asylum in the first safe country they enter. Everyone who is removed from the UK is seen by a health professional and is assessed as suitable for removal. We take the welfare of detainees incredibly seriously, and where there are any concerns about an individual’s potential to self-harm, a tailored support package is put in place which can include 24/7 observation.”

The spokesperson added: “This is part of our strategy to stop people attempting dangerous journeys across the Channel and send a signal to anyone considering it that we will do anything in our power to return them. There was a return flight last week and there are more planned for the coming weeks and months. The UK only ever returns those who the Home Office and, where applicable, the courts are satisfied do not need our protection and have no legal basis to remain in the UK.”

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