Detention of Afghans who cannot be deported is unlawful

Detention of Afghans who cannot be deported is unlawful, say anti-deportation campaigners

[Press Release 1/05/2012]

  • Mass deportations to Afghanistan repeatedly cancelled amid worsening security in the country
  • Detainees still being given tickets despite lack of prospect to remove them
  • Campaigners say the prolonged detention of Afghan refugees is unlawful

A car bomb exploded in Kabul on Wednesday morning (2/05/12), killing 6 people, just hours after US President Obama had visited the capital [Reuters]

Deportation charter flights to Afghanistan have been repeatedly cancelled as a result of the spiralling security situation in the country. In the latest incident, a flight due to depart on 6th May has been called off, making it the fourth failed attempt in the past two months.

Under a programme known as Operation Dickens, approximately 60 refused asylum seekers from Afghanistan were being forcibly removed on specially chartered flights approximately every two weeks. [1]

Over the last two months however, the flights have been repeatedly cancelled amid worsening security conditions in the country. [2] The previous flight, on 17th April, was called off at the last minute after Kabul saw the most violent attacks in more than a decade. [3]

Central to this controversy is the refusal by Reliance detainee escorts to fly to Kabul. Earlier this month media reports revealed that 11 Reliance employees had been suspended after refusing to go to Afghanistan saying they were concerned for their safety. [4]

Yet the Home Office claims it is ‘safe’ to return refused asylum seekers to Afghanistan and many are still being held in detention having been told they will be removed from the UK ‘soon’. According to campaigners, some detainees have been issued with tickets on seven consecutive occasions, only to have their flight cancelled at the last minute.

According to the law, immigration detainees facing removal may only be kept in detention so long as their removal is imminent. If it appears that removal cannot be effected within a reasonable time period, detention becomes unlawful and the detainees should be released. [5]

A spokesperson from campaign group Stop Deportation said: “Not only do we consider this practice unlawful, it is also a clear example of how ridiculous the deportation system is. Countries torn apart by western military adventures are declared ‘safe’ and people are forcibly deported back to the same circumstance they had fled in the first place.”

Campaigners claim that amongst those routinely deported to Afghanistan are 16 and 17-year-olds whose age is disputed by the Home Office, and refused asylum seekers who have been living in the UK for more than a decade. One of the detainees awaiting removal has reportedly attempted to commit suicide in detention twice whilst awaiting removal. [6]

Campaigners have demanded that all deportations to Afghanistan are stopped immediately and Afghan detainees released without delay. Sabrina Gosling from Stop Deportation said: “Against a backdrop of deteriorating security in the country, the government needs to reconsider its policy of deporting people to Afghanistan as a matter of urgency. We are demanding an immediate suspension of all returns to that country.”


For further information and questions, please contact


[1] Freedom of Information request

[2] Flights due to depart on 12th March, 28th March, 17th April, and 6th May were all cancelled, with only one in that period (4th April) able to go ahead.



[5] R (on the application of Hardial Singh) v Governor of Durham Prison [1983] EWHC 1 (QBD)

[6] This trauma is exacerbated by the current use of controversial ‘reserve’ lists. Reserves are detainees who are given tickets in the event that others have their removal cancelled through last-minute legal challenges. Reserves are not told if they are on the list, and they may only realise once they are taken to the airport and told there is no space for them on the plane. The practice was much criticised earlier this year by the Home Affairs Select Committee in its report on Rules Governing Enforced Removals from the UK, and the HM Chief Inpector of Prisons in his 2011 inspection of Tinsley House, where he described the practice as “objectionable and distressing”, and “inhumane.

[7] Charter flights are a large-scale operations, involving two escorts per deportee and contracts with both airlines and coach companies, at a cost up to £150,000 [7].

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