London: A special UK Home Office chartered plane flew only a single migrant out of the country after last-minute legal challenges blocked the deportation of 29 others.
The flight to France took off from an unnamed airport on Friday and is believed to have cost at least 100,000 pounds.
According to Home Office sources, lawyers representing dozens of asylum seekers who were due to be returned waited until the final possible moment to lodge appeals which would prevent them from being put on board the charter plane.
In 18 cases, lawyers lodged claims under human rights laws. Six further cases involved allegations of modern slavery.
Five of those whose removal was postponed had already been deferred from an earlier flight.
The lone migrant deported to France was a Sudanese national.
As per the Dublin III Regulations, asylum seekers who have previously claimed refugee status in another EU country can be deported there, however, the current law allows lawyers to submit challenges at any stage of the process, including at the last minute.
The flight failure came as it emerged the number of migrants living in budget hotels has gone up to more than 9,500.
In early September, the figure was 8,000 spread across 91 properties in 51 local authorities.
Asylum seekers are entitled to 37.75 pounds per week for food, clothing and toiletries.
Matthew Rycroft, the Home Office’s most senior civil servant, said: “There are more people coming into the asylum system at the moment than are leaving it and that is because of Covid.”
Of the 9,500 living in hotels, 1,200 have been denied asylum and are awaiting deportation, the public accounts committee heard.
Around 2,500 have been granted asylum and can leave after suitable accommodation is found for them.
A Home Office spokesman said: “On this morning’s flight we received a large number of first-time human rights claims, which have to be given appropriate periods of consideration.
“The government’s efforts to facilitate entirely legitimate and legal returns of people who have entered the UK through illegal routes are too often frustrated by last-minute challenges submitted hours before a scheduled flight.
“These claims are very often baseless and entirely without merit, but are given full legal consideration, leading to removal being rescheduled, and can effectively result in the timing out of a return due to the stringent Dublin Regulation.
“It is right that we seek to remove migrants who have travelled through a safe country and have no right to remain in the UK ï¿½ people should claim asylum in the first safe country they enter and we make no apologies for pursuing removals.”
BY HITESH TIKOO