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Too many migrants still physically restrained on charter flights, watchdog warns


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Home Office charter flights still involve too much physical restraint of the migrants being removed, according to a watchdog’s annual report.

The Independent Monitoring Boards’ Charter Flight Monitoring Team published its annual report yesterday, saying that it “remains concerned” about flights to other European Union countries in particular.

Overall, the report says, returnees were generally treated fairly. Recent change to the removal process — including a new contractor, Mitie, taking over and returnees getting an information handbook — were for the better.

But it highlights multiple exceptions where migrants were treated badly. Recorded incidents included:

  • Flights taking place at airports a long journey from the immigration detention centre, meaning inordinately long journeys
  • Being kept for up to 11 hours in coaches, “sometimes in insanitary conditions”
  • Not being allowed to use the toilet in private
  • “Inhumane” nighttime removals
  • Returnees physically restrained when in distress, but not actually aggressive or argumentative

In general, the monitors “did not observe consistent compliance with policy” when it came to use of force and restraint. Around one fifth of returnees — 58 out of 293 observed — were physically restrained in some way. The use of restraint varied wildly from flight to flight.

While Home Office policy says that there is a presumption against restraint, in practice staff were told “don’t be afraid” of using it.

Migrants being removed to other European Union countries under the “Dublin” system had a particularly hard time of it, since they were ending up in another unfamiliar environment rather than their home country. The Home Office had promised to brief its staff properly about the stress experienced by these returnees, but monitors saw no evidence of this happening.

Monitors expressed particular concern about a woman with epilepsy and brain injury, who was removed to Islamabad with little thought given to her onward journey from the airport.

Independent Monitoring Boards provide volunteers to scrutinise conditions in prisons and immigration removal centres. Its charter flight monitoring branch managed to accompany eight removal flights in 2018.

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CJ McKinney

CJ McKinney

CJ McKinney is a specialist on immigration law and policy. Formerly the editor of Free Movement, you will find a lot of articles by CJ here on this website! Twitter: @mckinneytweets.