Taxpayer funds 120,000 flight to return just eight Afghans
A charter flight costing the taxpayer 120,000 was used to fly just eight failed asylum seekers back to Afghanistan, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.
By Tom Whitehead, Home Affairs Editor
Published: 7:00AM GMT 26 Oct 2009
Home Office officials had planned to use the private jet to return up to 30 individuals but more than two thirds won last minute reprieves after applying for judicial reviews against their removals.
But the plane was still used, meaning the public paid 15,000 per failed asylum seeker on a journey dubbed the “ghost flight” by immigration staff.
The case reignites concerns over spending on private jets to return failed asylum applicants, foreign prisoners and illegal immigrants.
Figures earlier this year showed spending on charter flights had almost doubled to 8.2 million in 2008/09 the equivalent of more than 22,500 per day.
That was a sharp increase on the 4.8 million spent during the previous year and means more than 22.5 million has been spent on private jets in the last four years.
In total, the taxpayer has been left with a bill for 81 million to fly such individuals home since 2005, once spending on seats on scheduled flights is included.
Susie Squire, of the Taxpayer's Alliance, said: “While it is very important to ensure successful deportations, this is an absurd amount of money to spend per passenger.
“There needs to be a case by case assessment as to whether a charter flight is the correct course of action.”
A second flight to Afghanistan left the UK this week and successfully returned 23 individuals but it is not known if any were among those postponed last week.
The Home Office insisted it regularly reviews flight costs and remains “content that charter flights currently offer the most economical option”.
A spokesman said:”Thirty one Afghan nationals have been successfully returned to Afghanistan from the UK in the past week.
“A number of proposed returnees did not fly, owing to high court injunctions imposed very late on in the removal process. This demonstrates the continuing challenges the UK Border Agency face when trying to remove failed asylum seekers.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has raised concerns about the UK and its European neighbours forcibly returning failed asylum seekers to central Iraq.
It emerged last week that a flight from the UK carrying around 40 detainees saw just ten leave the plane in Iraq and the others returned to Britain after an army officer there reportedly told UK officials not to send any more failed asylum seekers by force.
A UNHCR spokesman said: “In our guidelines issued last April, we noted that in view of the serious human rights violations and continuing security incidents throughout Iraq, most predominantly in the central governorates, asylum-seekers from these governorates should be considered to be in need of international protection.
“UNHCR therefore advises against involuntary returns to Iraq of persons originating from central Iraq until there is a substantial improvement in the security and human rights situation in the country.”
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