‘Migrant Air’ To Speed Deportations

Alan Travis, Guardian (London), July 6

Britain is to take part in a plan to organise joint charter flights to deport illegal immigrants across Europe, the home secretary, Charles Clarke, confirmed yesterday.

Interior ministers from France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK, agreed to organise charter flights that will pick up illegal migrants in each country before flying them home.

The scheme will effectively set up a discrete charter airline, already dubbed “migrant-air”, that will cut the cost of deportations and reduce the need to send those being deported back home on commercial airlines.

The scale of removals of illegal migrants in Britain needs to be stepped up sharply if the Home Office is to meet Tony Blair’s target that the number of monthly total deportations exceeds the number of unfounded new asylum applications by the end of this year. In the first three months of 2005 3,000 were removed but 5,200 new unfounded asylum claims were lodged.

“Our idea is simple—we think that foreigners with no right or entitlement to be in our countries should not stay. They are in breach of our laws,” said the French interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy.

“So we have decided to combine our political and financial efforts and organise return flights for those foreigners whose residence papers are not in order.”

The Italian minister, Guiseppe Pasanu, said that putting the planes into service “is a question of days”. A Home Office spokesman said the practicalities of the scheme were being worked on now so that it could be implemented as quickly as possible.

In the past, joint charter flights have been organised on a “one-off basis” such as the return of Kosovans and Albanians to the Balkans in 2000 and has proved to be as much as a 10th of the cost of using scheduled airlines.

At the same time commer cial airline pilots and cabin staff have refused to fly with potentially violent or disruptive deportees on board. The situation has become so bad that only British Airways will take forced removals.

The cost of chartering a plane for a small number of migrants being deported can also prove prohibitive. Last year it cost £75,000 to hire a private jet to deport a single Algerian failed asylum seeker who was banned by commercial airlines.

The Home Office also faces the problem that Britain does not have direct air links to countries such as Somalia and could benefit from joint charter flights with countries which have better relationships with the destinations.

The group of interior ministers, known as the G5, meeting in Evian, France, yesterday also backed British suggestions to extend the network of immigration airline liaison officers to prevent passengers travelling without proper documents and passport copying measures by check-in staff to counter illegal entrants destroying their papers.

Mr Clarke said after the meeting: “Between our five countries there is a real determination to demonstrate to citizens that we can work together so that international action is always more effective.”

Meanwhile, a critical report published today shows that slack and inadequate practices are still a feature in Britain’s immigration removal centres.

The chief inspector of prisons, Anne Owers, says there is recent evidence of abuse of those facing removal while under escort and at the point of deportation.

She says that when those involved in such incidents are returned to the detention centre after the removal has failed to take place, they are not being medically examined to see if they have been injured. She also says reception procedures are very poor, with detainees having to wait for hours in vans outside the centres where they are held before removal.

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