- A senior immigration official appeared on a spiritual guru's TV show
- He promoted the new measures to effectively 'pay' migrants to leave
- Critics say scheme amounts to a bribe for those who've committed a crime
Thousands of illegal immigrants are being offered bribes to leave Britain with ‘tailored packages’ that include free flights, money to start up businesses and help with finding schools for their children.
The Home Office is also offering failed asylum seekers and those who overstay their visa an amnesty from arrest if they attend meetings to discuss their return.
And they are promising that anyone who leaves voluntarily could be allowed back into the UK in as little as two years, whereas those forcibly deported are banned from returning for a decade.
In an astonishing example of the official drive to effectively ‘pay’ illegal immigrants to leave, a senior immigration official has even appeared on a spiritual guru’s TV show to promote the new measures.
But critics say the generous terms of the Voluntary Returns Scheme amounts to a bribe that sends out the message that it is OK to be in the UK illegally.
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Tory backbencher Andrew Bridgen said: ‘This looks like a bribe for people who have already committed a criminal act by being here illegally.
And it could act as an incentive for more people to come illegally.’
Conservative MP Philip Hollobone added: ‘If people surrender themselves, it may be an arrest is not required but we should continue to arrest illegal immigrants.’
It is estimated as many as a million illegal immigrants may be living in Britain, either having overstayed their visas or having smuggled themselves into the country.
Experts admit that the Government does not have the resources to find and deport all of them.
Richard Lederle, leader of the South-East England immigration compliance and enforcement team, recently appeared on a cable TV show called Spiritual Live to advertise the Home Office’s new stance.
He told guru Shri RajRajeshwar Guruji: ‘We’ve changed the approach over the past six to 12 months, where we are running these surgeries within the communities to give this free advice to those who find themselves in an increasingly difficult situation and here illegally.
‘What you get with the Voluntary Returns Service is a more tailored, bespoke package specific to the individual needs of that case.
That would include potential medical assistance, certainly if there’s family, and in terms of potential reintegration, we’re looking at education costs, possible work placements on return to country of origin.’
Mr Lederle added: ‘There has to be a benefit. If you’re returned through the enforced route, you face almost inevitably a ten-year return ban.
The benefits could be a reduction to as little as two years. You can talk face-to-face without fear of being arrested. Let’s be absolutely clear on that point, if they are willing to turn up to those surgeries, they will not be arrested.’
Surgeries are being held at Sikh gurdwaras and Hindu temples, mainly in North and West London, to agree travel plans.
The new approach contrasts with the Home Office’s campaign three years ago, when it tried to scare illegal immigrants by driving a van around London bearing the message:
‘In the UK illegally? Go home or face arrest.’
A review found only 11 people had left as a direct result.
The Home Office has paid failed asylum seekers and those whose visas have expired to return home since 1999.
However, the latest figures show the numbers taking this up have fallen, from a high of 6,200 in 2006 to just 1,635 last year.
In 2012-13, the most recent year for which detailed figures are available, £8.8 million was spent on the scheme including £2.1 million on flights and £37,000 on travel documents, with much of the rest going on help for the returnees to start new lives back home. Each individual can get up to £2,000.
A Home Office spokesman said the new system aims to save £5 million a year, adding: ‘Enforced returns cost the taxpayer several thousand pounds.
Helping those depart voluntarily costs much less.’
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'Deceitful': Awadalla Ibrahim
An illegal immigrant who dodged deportation for 15 years, despite being jailed for injuring his three-year-old son, is in line for tens of thousands of pounds in compensation.
Sudanese Awadalla Ibrahim, above, claimed he had been held in a detention centre for too long while officials tried to deport him – even though his refusal to co-operate delayed his release.
The 34-year-old, branded ‘deceitful’ in court papers, sued the Home Office after his release, persuading a High Court judge that the last 11 months of his nearly three-year detention had been illegal.
The ruling means Ibrahim is entitled to claim damages for the time he was wrongly held – from the end of 2014 until November last year.
Based on similar cases, he could receive as much as £100,000.
In 2012, he was convicted of wounding over an attack on his son.
The Home Office declined to comment on his case but it is understood officials still hope he can be sent back to Sudan.
Ibrahim said last night that his son was accidentally hit by his mobile phone and that he hopes to stay in the UK.