Over the last 18 months, £13.5 million of tax payers cash has been spent chartering planes to deport illegal immigrants, including foreign criminals and failed asylum seekers, often in half empty planes. The cost breaks down to an average of £5,000 per person, enough to send each of them half way around the world first class.
In one example, a plane chartered at a cost of approximately a quarter of a million pounds was used to fly just one criminal deportee home to Morocco. In another, a 265-seat plane was used to take just 25 Nigerians home. Eleven Afghan illegals were given a whole airliner to themselves for their trip home to Kabul.
In total, at least 54 private jets were used to carry 2,892 deportees, an average of 53 per plane over the 18 months to June. Each chartered plane is estimated to cost £250,000, adding up to some £13.5 million. The figures were revealed in a Freedom of Information request lodged by the Daily Mail.
The figures come hot on the heels of reports that the Home Office picked up a £3,000 tab to transport seven African migrants from West London to Manchester in a luxury stretch Hummer, big enough to seat 16 people. Spokesmen for the ministry blamed that episode on the government contractor Serco.
The Home Office, which is facing budget cuts of up to 40 percent over the next four years has defended its policy of chartering flights, arguing that scheduled flights are not always available.
A Home Office spokesman said: “When returning people, we always consider the availability of scheduled aircraft routes, the cost of maintaining their detention, and the individual circumstances of each case.
“Charter flights are used to return illegal immigrants to destinations which have a limited number of scheduled flights or where scheduled flights have an insufficient capacity to meet demand. In general, they are used to remove those with a history of non-compliance or who pose a risk to the public.”
In the case of the lone Moroccan, authorities deemed that he had to be transported alone as he posed such a high security risk. The man has been named as Younes Tsouli, who was once described as al Qaeda’s most influential cyber terrorist. He was deported after serving just half of a 16 year sentence for distributing bomb making instructions and videos of beheadings via the internet, and was accompanied on his trip by a number of guards and medical staff.
Most of the flights carried at least three guards and security staff for each illegal immigrant deported in case of trouble in the air. In September 2014, 29 Afghans were accompanied by 70 staff, leaving the 265-seat plane about 60 percent empty. Earlier in the same year 26 Albanians were accompanied by 66 staff, transported in a private jet with capacity for 202 passengers, leaving the plane more than half empty.
TaxPayers’ Alliance director Jonathan Isaby said: “Taxpayers will be astounded that when we’re trying to make savings, mandarins are spending huge sums on half-empty flights.
“There have to be better ways to transport illegal immigrants home, be that using commercial flights or asking foreign governments to improve their immigration systems to accept more individuals in one batch.”
The revelation has also prompted Keith Vaz, the Labour chairman of the Commons home affairs committee, to demand answers from immigration minister James Brokenshire.
“These are astonishing figures for a Government department that is facing huge cuts,” he said. “A half-empty flight is a waste of money and shows a woeful lack of competence and organisation. Ministers really need to get a grip.”
Conservative MP Philip Hollobone said: “Most people would be shocked at this. They would think that failed asylum seekers could be sent home cheaper. It seems we are gold-plating their returns.
“Most of them didn’t arrive in Britain by plane so a journey home over land shouldn’t present too much hardship for them.”
Government ministers are coming under increasing pressure to deport illegal immigrants after the Conservative’s promise to get net migration down to the “tens of thousands” failed spectacularly. Net migration was estimated at 318,000 for the whole of 2014, and rising. By March 2015 net migration reached a record high of 330,000, representing an increase of 94,000 in just one year. Mr Brokenshire called the rise “deeply disappointing.”
But even as hundreds of thousands were coming in, just 38,767 people were deported in 2014, either voluntarily or by force. A Home Office spokesman said: ‘Those with no right to be in the UK should return home. We expect and will help people to leave the country voluntarily. Where they do not, we will seek to enforce their departure.”
Last October, a National Audit Office report revealed that the Home Office had lost track of 760 of the 4,200 foreign criminals who had been freed back on to our streets by the end of March 2014 pending their removal.