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HMI Prisons: December removal of immigration detainees to Albania well organised but too many were detained for too long


Inspection report published of operation to escort and remove 73 Albanian detainees from the UK via plane

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His Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons (HMI Prisons) on Monday released a brief new inspection report of escort and removals of immigration detainees to Albania. You can download the report here.

HMI Prisons logoImage credit: UK GovernmentHMI Prisons observed an operation to remove 73 Albanian detainees from the UK via a flight from London Stansted to Tirana in December 2023. Fifty of the Albanians were returning voluntarily. 129 escort staff were used in the operation and the escort contractor was Mitie Care and Custody.

Overall, the inspection finds that the removal operation was generally well organised, but too many of those removed were held in detention for several weeks before the flight even though they were willingly returning to Albania.

The report notes: "Some [detainees] were frustrated that they had had to wait in detention for more than a month before a flight was arranged, despite accepting removal at the earliest stage."

Concerns were also raised by HMI Prisons over the routine breaching of detainees' medical confidentiality, a failure to clearly communicate information about vulnerability and risk, and the inadequate use of interpreters.

On the positives, Charlie Taylor, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said escort staff were largely respectful, had positive interactions with detainees, and used very little force during the removal. Attention was also given to helping detainees return to the community in Albania.

One detainee was restrained during the flight, with the report noting: "A waist restraint belt was used for one detainee, and was justified on the basis of the assessed risk; he told staff on collection that he did not wish to leave the country and was overheard saying that he would fight staff. In the event, he offered no resistance and was compliant throughout. Despite this, the belt remained in place for about 40 minutes after the plane had taken off, without any obvious remaining justification."

In terms of legal rights, HMI Prisons found all detainees had access to a mobile phone on the coach to the airport and the plane, which they could use to contact legal representatives, but most detainees had not consulted a solicitor due to their return being voluntary.

Legal interventions did, however, lead to several detainees having their removal cancelled, including in two cases after arrival at Stansted airport.

The report adds: "Home Office staff were present at two [immigration removal centres] before departure and they monitored the operation throughout. Detainees were told that they would have access to a CIO [chief immigration officer] on the flight. We observed the CIO's surgery, which was held with an interpreter. The CIO was flanked by two security staff and two other escorts were nearby, which made for a reasonably relaxed approach, without the atmosphere of intimidation that we have sometimes seen during these surgeries."

Arrival in Tirana was incident free, with a handover conducted by the CIO to Albanian police, after which detainees disembarked the flight onto a bus.