The UK appears to be accelerating the deportation of asylum seekers ahead of Brexit, Novara Media can reveal.
Under the Dublin III regulation, also known as the Dublin regulation, EU member states (as well as Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland) are able to return asylum seekers to the EU country where they first arrived – or, more accurately, in which they first came to the attention of the authorities, ascertained using the Eurodac fingerprint database.
Between 2019 and 2020, requests for so-called “Dublin transfers” have increased by over 154% to Germany, 92% to Ireland, 58% to Denmark, 50% to Switzerland and 10% to Spain – and that is based on data from only the first ten months or fewer of this year.
According to lawyers who represent asylum seekers facing deportation under the Dublin regulation, this sudden acceleration has led to a catalogue of procedural failings, with disastrous – even life-threatening – consequences for their clients. These include asylum seekers being separated from their families, and dumped overseas with no plans for their shelter – both violations of the Dublin regulation.
The Dublin regulation was introduced in January 2014 to prevent asylum seekers submitting multiple applications for international protection, and to prevent them from travelling around Europe without any member state assuming responsibility for them.
The regulation is a net importer of asylum seekers to the UK. In 2019, the country accepted 714 asylum seekers under the regulation – the vast majority of them (529) in order to ensure family unity, one of the main provisions of the regulation. The same year, we returned only 263 asylum seekers to other member states.
Nevertheless, the Dublin regulation remains the easiest way for the UK, or any EU country, to remove asylum seekers, as it relieves them of having to substantively consider an individual’s asylum claim, which becomes the responsibility of the receiving member state.
It is therefore unsurprising that the British government has endeavoured to retain or replicate the Dublin regulation post-Brexit.
During negotiations with the EU, the UK developed a plan to mimic the Dublin system after Brexit – however in August this year, EU negotiators rejected this plan, describing it as “very unbalanced” and “not good enough”. The UK will therefore lose its membership of the Dublin regulation on 1 January.
In August, this gave the Home Office just over four months to maximise the Dublin regulation – and maximise it they have.
Eurostat, the statistical office of the EU, publishes Dublin transfer data annually – meaning that any change in the number of Dublin transfer requests during 2020 would not usually be notable until 2021.
Yet in October, the Spanish interior ministry published interim figures on the number of Dublin transfer requests it received from other EU states between 1 January and 30 June 2020. The data indicated that Spain received 148 requests from the UK during the first half of 2020, more than the 134 requests it received during the entire preceding year.
Novara Media has since uncovered data that shows this trend is being replicated across a number of EU states – notably Germany, one of the biggest recipients of Dublin transfers from the UK.
The country, which last year received 794 Dublin transfer requests from Britain, received 2,015 during the first ten months of this year.
A marked increase in transfer requests was observed across all the EU states that supplied data to Novara Media. Ireland received 290 requests from the UK in the first ten months of this year, almost double the 151 it received in the twelve months of 2019. Switzerland received 225 in the first nine months of the year, up from 150 in 2019. Denmark received 202 requests in the first nine months of this year, 58% more than the 128 it received from the UK last year.
While not all of these requests have been accepted by the receiving member states – Germany has so far rejected 1,004 of the UK’s 2,015, and completed only 62 transfers – the spike in them is leading to a number of procedural failings, according to immigration lawyers.
“It’s clear to us that the Home Office are rushing a lot of these cases,” a lawyer for Duncan Lewis, a firm that advises a large number of Dublin deportees, told Novara Media – and as a consequence, it is breaching critical elements of the Dublin regulation with alarming frequency.
One is “respect for family life”, which stipulates that asylum seekers must have their application considered by the EU member state in which a family member resides. In August, however, the Home Office sought to deport three Yemeni brothers represented by Duncan Lewis to Spain, despite their father being in the UK. “It should have become apparent through their screening interviews that they were not eligible for deportation,” says the lawyer, “but for some reason, that was missed”.
Part of the reason for this may be that, as noted in a September report by the prison inspectorate on conditions at a number of immigration detention facilities, “the interview process [for asylum seekers] had been abridged”. “An abridged version designed for busier times was frequently used,” the report added, “but it was not always clear why; we also saw it used when there were few detainees to interview”.
Another article of the Dublin regulation the Home Office appears to be contravening as a result of its haste is the “reception directive”, which mandates that submitting countries ensure adequate and comparable reception conditions in the receiving country before removing asylum seekers to them. “The UK shouldn’t send someone back to live homeless on the street if they know that that’s going to happen,” said the Duncan Lewis solicitor. Yet this is precisely what occurred in September, when a group of 11 Syrian asylum seekers were abandoned by the Home Office in Madrid, having made no plans for their accommodation.
Chai Patel, director of legal policy for the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said: “The Home Office looks as if it’s doing its utmost to rush through removals to Europe before 2021, without calmly and fairly assessing people’s claims. The fact that it has deported so many vulnerable people during a global pandemic – leaving many destitute and at risk – shows they are clearly prioritising speed over fairness and public health.
“We need to see urgent changes to this broken system that tries to deport people at all costs, and more safe and legal routes to asylum so people do not risk their lives seeking sanctuary in the UK.”
Rivkah Brown is a writer and the editor of Vashti.
The Home Office was contacted multiple times for comment but did not respond.