Concerns have been raised about a group of 11 Albanians flown out of the UK soon after arriving in small boats despite a government undertaking not to fast-track Albanian nationals.
Last month, the Home Office was forced to concede that it did not have the right to do so, after earlier claims from former home secretary Priti Patel that the UK could quickly return asylum seekers who arrived in the UK and made “spurious” claims.
The Albanians are thought to have arrived in the UK last week and were taken from Manston in Ramsgate where the Home Office processes small boat arrivals, to Stansted airport from where they were put on a plane back to Albania on Wednesday. It is thought to be the first time small boat arrivals have been put on a plane directly from Manston.
Critics have described the incident as a case of “zero notice removal”. While a Home Office spokesperson said they could not comment on the flight for operational reasons, government sources said nobody on the flight had an outstanding asylum claim.
But non-government sources have told the Guardian the 11 Albanians were not given an opportunity to have their asylum claims considered before they were put on the plane.
Mishka Pillay, campaigns consultant at Detention Action, said: “This removal of 11 people to Albania is an indication that people in Manston may be deprived of due process. We have had serious concerns about Manston. The most vulnerable people are being hidden away from vital support and access to justice.”
In August, Patel announced a scheme to expedite the removal of Albanians who arrive to the UK in small boats, saying that many make “spurious” asylum claims. However, following the threat of legal action from the charity Care4Calais, the Home Office conceded a few weeks ago that officials do not have the right to fast-track the deportation of Albanian asylum seekers after they arrive in the UK and gave an undertaking not to do this.
The incident involving the 11 Albanians is the latest to have caused concern over Manston, a temporary tented site at an airfield designed to hold 1,000 small boat arrivals that reportedly has 3,000 on site currently, giving rise to conditions described as “a nightmare” by one of those working at the site.
Some people are being held for longer than the five-day time limit on the site, including unaccompanied children.
Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, said: “The appalling inhumane conditions that we’re seeing across reception facilities for men, women and children seeking asylum highlight an unacceptable lack of contingency planning by this government, that is causing serious damage to vulnerable individuals. Many of the children we support who are stuck in hotels or have been placed in Manston as age-disputed adults are traumatised by the fact they are not getting enough food, feel unsafe and, in some cases, are getting scabies.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are only processed at Manston when strictly necessary, and are kept separately from adults, and families with children at all times.”
Andy Baxter, assistant general secretary of the Prison Officer Association, which has members working at Manston, has warned about the bad conditions there: “There does not seem to be an identified leader on the Manston site. In a prison you have numerous agencies on site but you have a prison governor who is in overall charge. At Manston there are so many agencies, contractors, different parts of the Home Office all on site, but no one is in overall charge.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The continued rise in dangerous small boat crossings is causing an unprecedented strain on our asylum system. Manston is resourced and equipped to process migrants securely and we will provide alternative accommodation as soon as possible. We urge anyone who is thinking about leaving a safe country and risking their lives at the hands of people smugglers to urgently reconsider. Despite the lies they have been sold, they will not be allowed to start a new life here.”