Eleven Syrian asylum seekers who were removed from the UK on a charter flight to Spain nine days ago and who were abandoned in the streets of Madrid have all returned to Calais, hoping to reach the UK once again, the Guardian has learned.
One of the men who returned to Calais on Friday evening, said: “We were left in the street after the Home Office deported us last Thursday. It was impossible to survive like this.”
Another member of the group, who fled the same area of Syria, said the 11 asylum seekers wanted to remain together: “After I fled the war in Syria I had a very difficult journey. It took me two years to reach the UK but the Home Office finished everything for me in just one hour. I will keep trying to reach safety. My wife and children are still in danger in Syria. I want them to have a future.”
He said the 11 had travelled in small groups across the border from Spain to France and used buses to get back to Calais. ”We are back in ‘the Jungle’. This is our life now. We are just waiting to cross to the UK again where some of us have close family members. There are so many smugglers in Calais now. The system is against us.”
The Home Office says it is working on returning almost 1,000 asylum seekers in the UK to other European countries they have passed through under EU regulations known as Dublin lll. These returns will need to take place before 31 December when the UK completes its exit from the EU.
So far, 185 asylum seekers who, like the 11 Syrians, crossed the Channel in small boats, have been removed from the UK under Dublin. It is not known if any of the 185 subsequently returned to the UK. Between 2015 and 2018 other EU countries accepted 7% of the 18,953 requests made by the Home Office to return people under Dublin – 1,395 people.
The Guardian spoke to an asylum seeker who was removed on a charter flight to France and Germany on 26 August. He too has returned to Calais. “The Home Office sent me back to Germany because I had been fingerprinted there. But I never claimed asylum in Germany. I spent just one hour passing through the country trying to reach the UK but in that time the police caught me and took my fingerprints.”
Clare Moseley, founder of Care4Calais, a charity that works to support asylum seekers in northern France, said she had seen many asylum seekers like the 11 Syrians, making more than one attempt to return to the UK after being removed.
The process is expensive for the UK government. After processing the arrivals the asylum seekers are dispersed into temporary accommodation for several weeks or months before being rounded up, arrested, placed in detention, which costs £95 per persona day, and then removed on privately chartered planes with escorts. Each flight costs the government tens of thousands of pounds. At the end of 2019 charter flights cost the UK an average of £12,000 a person. The smugglers profit each time someone purchases a space in an overcrowded dinghy.
Moseley said: “It is particularly upsetting to meet people in Calais who have been removed from the UK and are trying to get back there again. This brings into sharp relief the level of desperation they are feeling. Despite the extreme risk to life this shows clearly that they have no other choice. They simply can’t go back home so will try again no matter how slim their chance of success.”
The UK received fewer asylum applications last year than countries such as Germany with 142,400 applications, France 119,900 applications and Spain 115,200 applications. In the UK there were 34,354 asylum applications. In the most recent figures available there were 4,850 asylum applications in the UK between April and June, a sharp drop from the 8,455 between January and March of this year.
The home secretary, Priti Patel, has pledged to make it “unviable” for migrants to cross the Channel and said the number travelling in this way was “appalling and unacceptably high”.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “These crossings are illegally facilitated by criminals willing to risk people’s lives for money. France and Spain are safe countries with a fully functioning asylum systems – those seeking refuge can and should claim asylum there.”
“We continue to return those who do not have a legitimate claim despite barriers to removals under the Dublin regulations and legal challenges.”