Back Forced return flights from the UK: the European anti-torture committee publishes its first report

The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) publishes today its first report on an operation of deportation of foreign nationals by air. The monitoring took place in the context of an ad hoc visit to the United Kingdom from 22 to 24 October 2012 and involved the presence of a CPT delegation on a charter flight between London and Colombo (Sri Lanka).

In its report, the CPT concludes that “each stage of the preparation of the removal process was carefully planned and organised, staff were well briefed, and every effort was made for the removal to be carried out in a humane way”. However, the CPT makes several recommendations and comments concerning both the preparation and execution phases of such operations.

The main issues raised concern the use of restraint by escort staff, the presence of a medical doctor (instead of a paramedic or a nurse) on board removal charter flights, and the need for a “fit to fly certificate” for persons to be deported. In particular, the CPT recommends that efforts be made for the revised training package for overseas escorts to be accredited and implemented at the earliest opportunity. In their response, the UK authorities indicate that an Independent Advisory Panel on Non-Compliance Management has been recruited to assess the quality and safety of the recently revised training package developed by the National Offender Management Service. As regards the presence of a medical doctor on board, the authorities indicate that “where indicated by risk assessment and where appropriate a doctor will be provided”. On the subject of the delivery of a “fit to fly certificate”, the authorities indicate that they do not consider it necessary “to positively assert in all cases that a person is fit to fly based on the reasonable assumption that this will be the case in the vast majority of instances”.

Other important recommendations related to the presence of interpreters throughout the whole removal process (including on board the aircraft), as well as the provision of psychological support and counselling to better prepare the persons to be deported for their removal.

Recommendations are also made concerning the recruitment procedure of escort staff (which should include some form of psychological assessment) as well as the measures to be taken to avoid professional exhaustion syndrome and the risks related to routine, and to ensure that escort staff maintain a certain emotional distance from the operational activities in which they are involved.

The CPT regrets that the Sri Lankan authorities did not allow its delegation to observe the hand-over of the returned detainees to local immigration staff. The Committee invites the UK authorities to expressly address the issue of the role of monitoring bodies in readmission agreements.

The CPT's visit report and the response of the United Kingdom authorities are available on the Committee's website

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