An investigation has been launched after allegations that Home Office contractors were paying for sex while deporting people abroad, the Guardian has learned.
Five whistleblowers said some colleagues had regularly paid sex workers for overnight stays for a period of 10 years after accompanying migrants on flights from the UK.
The Home Office’s permanent secretary, Matthew Rycroft, is understood to have raised concerns about the allegations against the Mitie company, which has held the deportation administration contract since May 2018.
Mitie said it was conducting a full investigation into the claims and had so far found no evidence the behavior had occurred since the deal was signed.
The allegations have prompted charities to criticize the Home Office for allowing taxpayers’ “hard-earned money” to be used for “predatory sex tourism”.
The whistleblowers have given the Guardian the names of a dozen colleagues they say have been paid sex workers over the course of a decade. They claim this happened in cities like Nairobi in Kenya, Johannesburg in South Africa, Hanoi in Vietnam, Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and Bucharest in Romania.
A Home Office contractor said he was shocked by what he saw while escorting people overseas. “On one job, two of us sat in the bar while three of the others went with the team [sex workers],” they said. “One had a phone he called his ‘little black book,’ specifically for jobs abroad, to arrange those contacts.”
Another contractor said: “The money being paid by these Home Office contractors who are using sex workers while they carry out deportations abroad goes further than in the UK. But it’s taxpayer money that’s being used to fly us to these places where sex is paid for,” they said.
A third contractor told the Guardian: “This practice among Home Office contractors has been around for as long as I can remember… Many hotels, particularly in places like Nairobi, are full of prostitutes and they’re cheap. It’s a thing that some of the men do because it’s there, it’s available.”
Stephen Kinnock, spokesman for Labor’s immigration service, described the reports as deeply disturbing and called on the Home Office to investigate the allegations immediately.
Bella Sankey, director of Detention Action, said: “The deportation industry wastes millions of taxpayers’ money tearing loving families apart and leaving thousands of British children growing up in poverty. It rubs salt in that wound to learn that Home Office contractors may have been involved in predatory sex tourism abroad with our hard-earned money.”
Steve Valdez-Symonds, director of refugee and migrant rights at Amnesty International UK, said the latest allegations drew attention to the need for the Home Office to critically reconsider the use of private contractors to carry out immigration tasks.
“The awarding of contracts requires serious efforts to ensure that the Ministry of Interior’s continued responsibility for these tasks is put into practice; and it must never be treated as a means of evading accountability,” he said.
A Mitie spokesman said: “The group’s management has recently become aware of allegations relating to anonymous and historical allegations of improper conduct by a small number of employees working on the Overseas Escorting contract. We have not been presented with any evidence to support these claims, nor have we been given details of specific cases. However, given the seriousness of these allegations, we have conducted an investigation.
“To date, we have found no evidence that this behavior occurred during our time of administration of this contract, which began in May 2018. We have strict professional standards backed by a rigorous code of conduct that employees must adhere to at all times when employed in company business. Any employees found not to meet these standards will be subject to disciplinary action.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “We take all reports of sexual exploitation extremely seriously and if these disturbing allegations are proven, we expect Mitie to act quickly and decisively. We’ve instructed Mitie to provide us with a full report on her investigation. We expect the highest standards of behavior from our suppliers, both in the UK and overseas, and where we identify any wrongdoing we will always act as strictly as possible.”