Afghan asylum seeker electronically tagged ‘without explanation’ for 20 months by ‘dehumanising’ Home Office

An Afghan asylum seeker has spoken of the “constant stress” of being monitored with a GPS ankle tag for 20 months, seemingly without explanation from the authorities.

Lawyers challenged the government over why the migrant was still on an electronic tag after a Home Office pilot to put GPS tags on asylum seekers was deemed unlawful. Its removal was finally ordered at the end of April after the Public Law Project intervened, although the Home Office claims the pilot scheme ended in December.

MM, who has asked to be anonymous, arrived in the UK by boat in June 2022 and was fitted with a tag after spending more than 60 days in immigration detention.

He said that the tag caused him to suffer depression, anxiety and stress due to fears that he would be punished if it was not charged.

MM said: “Being fitted with this tag has been a constant stress for more than a year and a half. I struggled with sleep because I had to keep the tag charged at all times, including at night, but it would often beep and wake me up.

“I have had security guards following me like I’m a thief when I go shopping. People in my community do not understand why I have been tagged. They think I am a dangerous criminal. There is physical pain too – it caused a wound that keeps opening up and bleeding.

“It has really affected all parts of my life.”

He said he was given no explanation about why he was tracked 24/7, saying: “If the law is applied equally, I do not understand why I was fitted with a tag but others were not. Nobody else in the hotel I stayed in had a tag.

“I don’t understand why this injustice has happened. I do not understand why the Home Office needed to monitor everywhere I went and everything I was doing. This was not explained to me at all.”

The Home Office launched a pilot in June 2022 to put asylum seekers on electronic tags (PA)
The Home Office launched a pilot in June 2022 to put asylum seekers on electronic tags (PA)

It was unclear why he had been fitted with the “dehumanising” tracking device, lawyers said. Niamh Grahame, solicitor at Public Law Project (PLP), said: “He is not someone who the Home Office has a duty to tag, and there is no evidence of him being a significant risk of harm or of absconding.”

The Public Law Project believes that MM was one of up to 600 asylum seekers who were part of a 2022 pilot scheme where GPS tags were put on people who arrived in the UK on small boats, or via other irregular routes, before their application was decided. People who did not comply could be taken back into detention or prosecuted.

However, the Home Office said it is in touch with all the people who were on the pilot and that their tags were removed by December 2023.

The Information Commissioner’s Office issued an enforcement notice against the Home Office in March, saying the pilot failed to comply with data protection laws.

At the time the UK information commissioner John Edwards said the pilot was “highly intrusive” and there was a “lack of clarity on how this information will be used”.

Ms Grahame said: “Our client has been subject to a harmful and unnecessary experiment. There is mounting evidence of the harm caused by GPS tagging and incredibly limited evidence of asylum seekers absconding in significant numbers.

“GPS tagging is an inhumane and disproportionately invasive bail condition. Instead of expanding its use, the Home Office should stop this practice altogether.”

“Our client arrived at the time the small boats pilot was launched and was fitted with the tag after being detained for over two months.

“When PLP reached out on his behalf, we said we understood that he was part of the small boats pilot and should have his tag removed. The Home Office did not dispute any of our letter in this response and ordered the removal of his tag.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “All individuals who were subject to electronic monitoring as part of the Expansion Pilot, and remained in contact with us, had their tags removed before the pilot ended on 14 December 2023”.