Actor Juliet Stevenson slams migrant phone confiscation policy

Actress Juliet Stevenson arriving at the High Court in 2017

Actress Juliet Stevenson arriving at the High Court in 2017 - Credit: PA

"It is both in violation of their human rights and in violation of data protection rights."

The actor Juliet Stevenson has spoken out about the confiscation of mobile phones from migrants attempting to cross the Channel into the UK.

Facts around the policy have emerged during a High Court action brought by three asylum seekers, with the Home Office admitting the blanket confiscation of devices was unlawful. The policy appears to have emerged organically within the Border Force and it operated between April and November 2020.

While no longer a blanket policy, confiscations continue.

Juliet - who lives in Highgate and is best known for her role in Truly, Madly, Deeply - supports West London Welcome and is a patron of the Islington Centre For Refugees and Migrants.

She told the Ham&High: "When it comes to phones it means that people have no way of being in touch with families. This man who was trafficked then lost touch with his wife and child as a result, and now the phones are not returned."

She said stories continue to emerge from families who have been met by Border Force officials.

"The other thing is that they're not allowed time to take the data off before they hand them over. They're not allowed time to write down numbers," she said. 

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"There have been examples where they're not even given time to write down numbers of contacts or relatives that they need to have, which seems completely randomly cruel."

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Mobile phones and other digital devices can be seized by immigration officers from migrants arriving via small boats in accordance with the law around statutory powers of seizure.

“To enable contact with friends, family and legal representatives, Home Office suppliers can also provide temporary access to basic model mobile phones for individuals in detention, or those awaiting initial processing. These mobile phones are returned when individuals leave the respective centre.”

The Home Office initially denied the policy of blanket confiscation existed, but the Guardian reported that the court was told it is likely to have involved thousands of mobile phones.

The paper said Sir James Eadie QC acknowledged that the Home Office had breached its duty of candour and that it was “extremely unfortunate” and apologised.