Immigrants 'treated as commodities' during removal flights from UK, watchdog finds

UK

Immigrants have been “treated as commodities” during deportation flights from the UK, according to a damning assessment of charter flights used by the Home Office to facilitate enforced removals.

Returnees were confined for hours in coaches with inadequate sanitation and subjected to “excessive and ill-judged” use of restraint, the prisons watchdog said.

The report, by the Independent Monitoring Board Charter Flight Monitoring Team (CFMT), reveals that deportation flights have departed from Britain with as many as three staff for every foreign national on board.

On one journey to Germany in June last year, there were 90 escorting officers for 30 individuals and all detainees were put in restraints – in what the watchdog blasted as “inhumane”.

The charter to Germany was arranged under the Dublin Convention, which determines which EU member state is responsible for considering an asylum claim.

Flights to Nigeria and Ghana in January 2017 and Pakistan in September had 135 and 106 staff for 61 and 54 returnees respectively.

Earlier this year The Independent heard how 27-year-old Opelo Kgari, a Botswanan national who has lived in the UK since she was a child, was strapped in a waist restraint belt as part of the deportation process.

Despite not trying to physically resist the removal, she and her mother were then “bound” in the “restricted” belt, which meant their wrists were strapped to their waists, limiting their arm movement.

Ms Kgari said: “They’re made of seatbelt material, but much thicker. They put it around you and on your wrists, so you can’t really move, you’re literally bound. 

“I couldn’t move my arms more than 30cm from my body. And it has handles on either side on your ribs so that the officers can physically move you if say you didn’t want to walk. So they can pull you along.”

“I was already stripped of all dignity, so you just kind of go with it. But you just feel… like you’re not even a person anymore. They don’t even treat you like a person, it’s like you don’t matter to anyone. And the whole time my mum was saying that’s my baby, don’t treat her like that.”

You just feel… like you’re not even a person anymore. They don’t even treat you like a person

Opelo Kgari, deported from the UK 

In light of the new report, CFMT leader Lou Lockhart-Mummery said: “The escorts generally behaved professionally and respectfully, except during the operation to Germany. Over the year we observed some aspects of good practice.

“However, we consider that the approach would be greatly improved if the dignity of the individual returnee was acknowledged in all aspects of the removal process on the day and if the use of force or restraint was consistently based on a well-judged individual risk assessment and was continually reviewed.”

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “The dignity and welfare of all those in our care is of the utmost importance and the Independent Monitoring Board rightly observed that returnees are generally treated kindly and with respect.

“However, we are taking the concerns raised by the inspectors very seriously.“

Measures taken to address the report’s recommendations include the introduction of body-worn cameras for escort staff, and staffing matters are kept under continuous review, the Home Office added.

Tascor was the Home Office’s escorting contractor for the period covered by the monitoring team’s report. The service has since moved to another provider, Mitie Care and Custody, which took over on 1 May.

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