Unlike the many asylum seekers desperate to remain in Britain, all Rashid Ali wants is to leave and get out of the cold. The 31-year-old Moroccan has spent the past six years trying to escape and has stowed away on cargo ships at least six times. Yet more than 12 months after a judge vowed to ‘kick some backsides’ and get him deported, he remains stuck in the system. He is being held in a detention centre costing taxpayers more than £100 a night.
Immigration officials say they will not send him home until he produces his passport, as the authorities in his native country will not allow him in without proof that he is one of its citizens. But Ali ripped up his passport and identity papers on arriving in Britain in 2004, hoping he would have more chance of gaining asylum if he pretended to be Algerian.
It was in December 2008 that Judge Michael Hubbard, QC, vowed to ‘kick some backsides’, saying he would write to government ministers to make sure Ali was promptly repatriated. But with border officials still at an impasse with Moroccan authorities, there appears little prospect of Ali being allowed to leave, even though the saga has cost the public more than £300,000.
As the chairman of MigrationWatch UK, Sir Andrew Green, put it: ‘This is the stuff of Alice in Wonderland. How can it possibly take so long to get a passport from the Moroccan authorities?’
Ali had dreamed that Britain would be a land of opportunity, but his illusions were shattered soon after his arrival and he began his unsuccessful attempts to stow away on ships. Eventually he was jailed for nine months in June 2005 after stealing a coat to keep warm. North Somerset magistrates ordered him to be deported after serving his sentence.
But on release from Horfield Prison in Bristol he was sent to a detention centre for almost three years, despite constant pleas to go home. In October 2008, when he was finally freed, immigration authorities offered Ali his own flat for fear he would harm himself hiding on board vessels. But he refused the offer and two days later was found hiding on another boat leaving Bristol. He was charged with stealing a mobile phone and jacket and damaging a door at the docks, which he admitted.
At Bristol Crown Court in December 2008, Judge Hubbard called for an inquiry, saying it beggared belief that the Home Office had failed to repatriate him. ‘The sooner he gets back to Morocco, the better for everybody,’ said the judge. ‘It beggars belief that during that time in detention it wasn’t sorted out for him to return home.’
Since then Ali has been held at Colnbrook Removal Centre, near Heathrow, as officials fear he will abscond. Immigration staff are liaising with Moroccan authorities to find some documents that will prove his nationality. It costs around £43,000 a year to lock up failed asylum seekers – more expensive than sending them on a world cruise. Figures obtained by the Tories show it costs £119 a day to hold a detainee compared to £90 for a prison cell. Removal centres cost so much to run because they must follow rules including providing failed asylum seekers with activities, TVs and health care.
Tory immigration spokesman Damian Green said it was ‘appalling’ that nothing had changed since Judge Hubbard’s demand for action. A UK Border Agency spokesman said: ‘There are countries where we can have difficulty returning people.’