As the government resumes its widely criticised programme of forced deportation by charter flights, Zita Holbourne, a human rights campaigner and National Chair of BARAC UK, makes the link between this inhumane practice and the Windrush injustice.
A government-organised mass deportation to Jamaica is due to take place on Tuesday 11 February. This is the second such charter flight to the island since the Windrush scandal, targeting Caribbean communities, broke in 2018.
Forced deportations of any kind are unacceptable but this type of wholesale deportation of people in large numbers - perhaps up to 50 people in one go - perfectly illustrates the inhumane nature of this practice. The government targets ‘low hanging fruit’: people fully complying with Home Office requirements., signing in weekly or fortnightly at immigration reporting centres. Nearly all of those being forcibly removed will be people who are going through appeals, or seeking to regulate their immigration status.
Like the charter flights in 2019 and in 2016, those targeted will include people who have spent the majority of their lives in the UK, many arriving as children. The people being deported will have family in the UK, some of them with British partners and children, even grandchildren.
People having lived in the UK since children may not even have been aware that there immigration status was somehow insecure until they were targeted by the Home Office.
The process of removal is brutal and traumatising for the person taken, as well as for their families. They are often detained with no notice, either when signing in or during a night raid of their home. They can be torn away from children, who are left distraught and afraid. Just this week I received an account of a dad being taken in front of his ten-year-old daughter, barred from calling her mum. Meanwhile the child herself had her bag searched and her mobile phone taken from her. In another case a young boy with sickle cell anaemia witnessed his mother taken in the middle of the night; the shock made him ill and he had to be rushed to hospital.
Once detained, personal smart phones are taken and people are detained in removal centres with conditions sometimes worse than prisons, including inadequate heating or facilities, and reports of vermin.
Those detained have reported that they were issued a removal notice and rejection of appeal with the same identical written reason given to many others in their refusals. The cut and paste nature of the letters shows the lack of individual concern in each case; there is no consideration given for people’s personal circumstances.
Before transfer to flights people are placed in isolation, so they do not know which airport they are going to. They are woken abruptly in the night and transferred covertly, cuffed to immigration officers and with a heavy presence of private security personnel. They will have no phone to contact loved ones but might get access to a quick call via the Immigration officer.
Once on the flight they are cuffed to two security officers and are chained and shackled from the waist down to their seat.
When they arrive in the country they are being deported to, they are processed and then, if they have no family to rely on, they are destitute and must rely on assistance from poorly funded charities. Isolation, the negative stigma of screaming news headlines branding them convicts and inability to work, means people end up depressed, ill, afraid and alone. There have been reports of people taking their own lives.
Some are just young men in their late teens or early twenties. Under Operation Nexus young people who have been repeatedly stopped and searched can be deemed to have committed the crime they were stopped for and deported, irrespective of the fact they have never been arrested, charged or convicted and with no consideration of the fact that young black men are disproportionately stopped and searched in the UK because of institutional racism.
The government is trying to claim that all of those targeted are ex-offenders and that there is no link to the Windrush scandal.
However, it is clear that some of those targeted for removal on the forthcoming charter flight, as with previous ones, have been criminalised by virtue of their immigration status. For those who have previously received a custodial sentence, their deportation creates a triple punishment. No British-born person who had served their time and been rehabilitated into the community would then face a second punishment by being detained, and a third punishment of deportation. Some people being deported may have previously been given indefinite leave to remain in the UK as children, only for this to be breached. The vast majority of those who have served time in prison are not hardened criminals, but people who've made mistakes, been punished for their crimes, often turned their lives around, worked and contributed to the economy and to society.
In the light of the injustice still facing Caribbean communities and families in the UK because of the Windrush scandal (the vast majority receiving no compensation to date), there should be no such force deportation taking place next week to Jamaica. Justice for the Windrush generation cannot just be about financial compensation for those directly targeted of that generation, but for restorative justice and an end to this type of racist discrimination.
We have organised an emergency protest to commence at 6pm tonight (Thursday 6 February) opposite Downing Street. It has been called by BARAC UK and BAME Lawyers for Justice which is an umbrella body for a group of black, race equality and Windrush justice groups.
We must also put pressure on those complicit with the process of deporting people on charter flights: the airlines, security companies, pilots etc; but also the governments of countries who allow these flights to land and accept the wholesale deportation of people without consideration of their circumstances or the inhumanity of their treatment.
As for the UK, this is not the kind of country we aspire to be.
BARAC tweets here: @BARACUK
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