A new round of deportations of asylum seekers was due to be carried out on Tuesday night by the Home Office, according to activists.
Men and women from Sierra Leone and Eritrea were said to have been among those who were moved to Stansted from Home Office immigration removal centres including Harmondsworth, Yarl’s Wood and Colnbrook.
The Home Office said that it did not comment on operational matters. But deportation orders, which inform those involved that they were to be flown out to Nigeria, have been seen by the Guardian.
The same notices contained a flight number that has been previously associated with deportations.
Activists from the Unity Centre, a group based in Glasgow, said it had been told that the aircraft was being provided by the charter jet company Titan Airways, a Stansted-based company that describes itself as “the airline of choice for VIP and corporate travel”.
The group said that those being deported included an asylum seeker who fled during the war in Sierra Leone.
“This man had never had his nationality questioned or disputed by the Home Office until two weeks ago,” said the group.
The activists also claimed that the flight would contain an Eritrean man who had been tortured in the east African state and who, they said, the Home Office was trying to deport to Nigeria.
“Most of his teeth have been pulled out; he has numerous bullet wounds on his right leg and scars on both ears.”
Activists also alleged that a number of the detainees which they said were being deported would be left stranded in other African states which were foreign to them and where they would have no access to legal rights, services or means of travel.
Responding to allegations that asylum seekers were being illegally removed to such third party countries, Home Office sources referred to government guidance stating: “Removal is usually to the country of which the illegal entrant is a citizen or a national, but removal may be to a third country provided the illegal entrant is acceptable there.”
Border officials were criticised last yearafter it emerged they target specific nationalities for deportation in order to fill up flights they have chartered. Activists said the practice led the government to remove people who still have active legal claims.
The government’s policy of deporting some failed asylum seekers on private jetsalso came under a spotlight after it emerged that the Home Office spent £14m on the practice in the 18 months to June last year. Many of those earmarked for the flights did not board the planes, leaving many flights half empty.
Charter flights are particularly feared by refused asylum seekers. They do not appear on airport boards and usually the flight numbers bear the prefix PV. Some resist removal, fearing torture or death following a forced return to their home country.