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IMMIGRATION lawyers and campaigners fear that potential victims of torture and trafficking were due to be deported to Vietnam on a charter flight today.
The Morning Star understands that around 20 Vietnamese nationals were scheduled for removal at around 5.30pm from Birmingham on Wednesday on the second charter flight to the country this year.
Several people due to be onboard were removed just days prior, including potential victims of trafficking and sexual abuse, as well as a mother with young children who has been in Britain for over 15 years, campaigners told the Star.
Among those taken off the flight was a young woman who had been forced to work in Britain to pay off her father’s debt to loan sharks in Vietnam, and who feared persecution on her return.
Abandoned by her family in Britain at the age of 16, the woman had also been subjected to sexual abuse throughout her childhood, Duncan Lewis solicitor Lottie Hume told the Star.
Her removal directions were cancelled on Tuesday, a day before the flight, after she was identified as a victim of trafficking through National Referral Mechanism (NRM), Britain’s official framework for identifying victims of human trafficking.
Ms Hume, who represented the woman, said that the law firm frequently sees people with indications of trafficking, including those found in brothels, nail bars or cannabis factories detained for removal.
“The Home Office routinely detain these individuals, rather than making the lawful and human decision to safeguard them and refer them to the NRM,” Ms Hume said.
Vietnam is recognised by the Home Office as a source of trafficking.
As a result the lawyer said it was likely that the Home Office is at “risk of unlawfully deporting many who are victims of trafficking or torture.”
Bail for Immigration Detainees policy and research co-ordinator Rudy Schulkind said: “We are concerned that this charter flight will remove victims of trafficking, who may not have had access to legal advice to prevent their deportation.
“The last time the Home Office deported people to Vietnam via charter flight, they admitted to breaking their own rules and denying access to justice.”
The Jesuit Refugee Service said that out of the 10 to 15 Vietnamese nationals it has supported since May, most have shown some indicators of trafficking or forced labour on their journeys.
Campaigners said they had also seen many Vietnamese nationals detained on arrival and rushed through a fast-track asylum process, prompting concerns about their ability to access meaningful legal advice.
“What we’re seeing more recently with this group of nationals is they seem to be going through the asylum system in detention quite quickly so going from screening to decision in about four to eight weeks,” William Neal, JRS UK Detention Outreach Officer told the Morning Star.
“Our concern is it’s not exactly clear what meaningful legal advice they’re having and at what stage they are accessing that legal advice - whether it is before their substantial asylum interview or after, because that makes a huge difference on the outcome of their asylum claim.”
While detention centres do provide access to legal advice, JRS said the odds are still stacked against them.
“Being able to access legal advice in detention is one thing, another is being able to access meaningful legal advice — where you know and understand what is going on as an individual who has been detained on arrival in a state of distress ... and not being proficient in any way in English,” Mr Neal added.
“I think that is a concern especially if you are factoring in — rushing people through this process, putting them on a charter flight and they haven’t had any meaningful legal advice.”
It’s not clear whether any of the detainees booked on today's flight had been through the fast-track process.
Ahead of the flight, SOAS Detainee Support launched an open letter urging airline TUI, thought to be running today’s flight, to drop its collaboration with the Home Office.
The firm has run at least eight charter flights this year and nine in 2020, but TUI refused to confirm or deny whether it was running Wednesday’s operation when approached by the Morning Star.
“TUI says that they have family values and they use this idea of family values to promote their business but then they are participating in a violent border regime that is tearing families and communities apart,” the SOAS Detainee Support’s coordinator Nicki Carter said.
Today’s flight is part of the Home Office’s “summer season” of deportation flights to countries including Zimbabwe, Vietnam, Jamaica, Pakistan, Ghana and Nigeria.
Several campaign groups are mobilising to halt the Tories’ ‘Summer of Racist Mass Deportations,’ with a petition so far attracting almost 200,000 signatures.
A Home Office spokesperson said that those being removed have been provided with the opportunity to raise claims, including to be victims of modern slavery and trafficking, prior to deportation.
“We only ever return those who we and, where applicable, the courts are satisfied do not need our protection and have no legal basis to remain in the UK,” they said.
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