The Home Office has spent £30,000 to charter a jumbo jet in order to deport a single asylum seeker to France.
An investigation by Channel 4 News discovered the “deportation flight chartered by the Home Office yesterday [Thursday] was carrying just one Sudanese man” and followed an operation requiring “3 mini buses, 2 coaches, a small army of Home Office officials AND a specially chartered AIRBUS”, tweeted reporter Paraic O’Brien.
A further 29 asylum seekers were expected to be on the fight but human rights lawyers successfully challenged their deportations with a last minute legal challenge on Thursday.
£525m contract ‘to escort immigration detainees’
The home secretary wants to deport 1,000 asylum seekers on chartered flights before the end of the year and the Telegraph reports that Priti Patel “is understood to be furious” at continuing last minute legal challenges that officials regard as “often baseless and entirely without merit.”
The Channel 4 expose said the minibuses used to transport the asylum seekers are run by a company called Mitie who are “responsible for escorting immigration detainees – a contract worth £525 million”, said O’Brien.
The 27-year-old Sudanese man was deported back to France under EU rules known as the Dublin agreement and Patel is planning to overhaul the UK’s asylum laws for the post-Brexit era.
Patel is reported to have claimed the EU laws are being “exploited by leftie-Labour supporting lawyers” who “she says are doing everything to stop the government removing people.”
This week a home office paper prepared for Number 10 – that proposed using islands in the south Atlantic to process asylum seekers – was leaked to the media in what “friends of Priti Patel” claimed was a move by her political rivals “to make her look stupid.”
O’Brien’s report for Channel 4 News was broadcast on the day the Guardian revealed the “Home Office moved dozens of asylum seekers involved in a Covid outbreak more than 120 miles” in contravention of an enforcement order that they remain in self-isolation for 14 days.
Forty asylum seekers were moved from accommodation in Birmingham – deemed too overcrowded to be Covid-secure – to different accommodation in Hammersmith and Fulham in west London.
The Home Office contractor involved has been accused of being “beyond reckless” while Patel is accused of moving the virus from one part of the country to another, after tests revealed some of the people moved had Covid-19 despite claims from the Home Office that none were infected with the virus.
In a letter to the home secretary, six Midlands councils also complained about the way the outbreak at the accommodation in Birmingham was handled by the Home Office and its contractor, Serco – who, O’Brien reports has an estimated £200 million government contract to run facilities to look after migrants.
“It is beyond reckless that in the current circumstances a provider operating under the terms of a government-commissioned contract failed to take adequate steps to prevent an outbreak and is continuing to fail to take even the most basic steps to protect the health of vulnerable people that they are paid to support”, the letter states.
Home Office risks spreading the virus
Hammersmith and Fulham council also sent a letter of complaint to Patel saying the Home Office “risks significantly contributing to the spread of Covid-19, undoing the efforts of responsible citizens and other government departments, the NHS and local authorities around Great Britain. This is not the kind of joined-up government that will enable the UK to tackle the pandemic successfully.”
The leader of Hammersmith and Fulham council Steven Cowan was unequivocal in condemning the actions, and said: “It is shocking that the Home Office is knowingly and incompetently moving people around the country in a way that risks allowing the virus to spread at a time when people who have Covid or are at risk of having Covid are being urged to stay at home and self-isolate.”
A hearing of the public accounts select committee held yesterday (Thursday) heard that 122 asylum seekers in hotel accommodation have tested positive for Covid-19.
*Updated on October 12 to correct the spelling of the company name Mitie who were awarded a £525 million government contract to ‘escort’ immigration detainees.