Inspectors report on Home Office flight removing immigration detainees to France and Germany

Read the report: Germany and France escort and removal

HM Inspectorate of Prisons has published a report on an inspection of the first immigration removal flight on which all detainees were being returned to other nations involuntarily since the suspension of such chartered flights at the beginning of the COVID-19 period.

The flight on 12 August 2020, from Stansted, took 14 immigration detainees to Frankfurt in Germany and Toulouse in France, under the Dublin Convention, to which the UK is a party.

Six detainees were Iranian, three were Sudanese, one was from South Sudan, two were from Iraq and one each was from Guinea Bissau and Afghanistan. The youngest was 19 years old and the oldest 43.

Inspectors assessed that the operation – managed by the Home Office Third Country Unit (TCU) with Mitie as the escort contractor – ran largely smoothly, in a calm and controlled manner with staff generally treating the detainees with courtesy.

Interpreters were present throughout the operation for the languages spoken by most detainees, and this greatly facilitated fair and effective management and support of detainees.

However, there were several concerns:

  • The need for staff to exercise physical control clearly made social distancing impossible during some parts of the operation and very little priority was given to wearing face coverings or maintaining distance.
  • A very large number of staff – 86 in total – accompanied the relatively small number of detainees. Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said: “A number of reasons were given for the high ratio on this occasion. Although on the transport staff did not crowd round detainees in excessive numbers, there were times when the sheer number of people, many of whom were in effect little more than spectators, hindered the effectiveness of the operation.”
  • Several of those scheduled to be on the flight had been very distressed; the removal of most of those identified as at risk of suicide or self-harm was cancelled, but two who were at risk travelled, of whom one self-harmed on the aircraft and the other was found during the journey to be secreting a fragment of sharp metal in his mouth.

Mr Clarke added that detainees alighting from the aircraft at Frankfurt and Toulouse passed without incident.

– End –


Notes to Editors

1. Read the report: Germany and France escort and removal. This report was published on 2 October 2020.

2. HM Inspectorate of Prisons is an independent inspectorate, inspecting places of detention to report on conditions and treatment, and promote positive outcomes for those detained and the public.

3. The UK is party to the Dublin Convention, a European Union law that determines which EU member state is responsible for considering an asylum claim and allows member states to transfer an asylum seeker to the responsible state. The Home Office Third Country Unit (TCU) manages such removals to and from the UK. Many detainees are returned to third countries using scheduled flights, but in February 2017 the Home Office started to use charter aircraft to remove groups of detainees.

4. The inspected flight took place on 12 August, from Stansted in the UK to Frankfurt and Toulouse. 14 detainees were escorted. The escort contractor was Mitie Care and Custody.

5. Please contact John Steele at HM Inspectorate of Prisons on 07880 787452, or at, if you would like more information.