Inhuman and degrading: the hidden reality of mass deportation

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Last week 17 people were arrested for grounding a privately chartered ‘ghost flight' at Stansted airport, which would have forcibly deported dozens of people to Nigeria and Ghana. Vistra Greenaway-Harvey looks the effects of mass deportation, in relation particularly to a recent mass deportation to Jamaica.

Ejecting large numbers of migrants,some of whom have built lives in the UK over many years and others with open asylum claims, is nothing new. Just a few weeks ago on 8March 2017, so largely buried by news of the budget and International Women’s Day, 32 Jamaicans were expelled from the UK. Sent on ‘ghost flight’ from Gatwick, some of these returnees left the UK as quietly as they came. For some, their deportation was the consequence for overstaying their visa or another violation of Britain’s immigration laws. Others were deported for criminal activity ranging from petty theft to drug dealing.

Notwithstanding debates about ‘illegal immigration’ and the impact and ethics of immigration more generally, mass deportation as a method to reduce numbers carries large social and legal ramifications and is potentially unsafe. As Ewing of the American Immigration Council notes: “the mass-deportation strategy is a last-ditch effort to enforce an immigration system that has been broken for decades.” He also highlights a host of economic disadvantages of this form of expulsion. In the UK, considering this deportation to Jamaica,Shadow Home Secretary Dianne Abbott outlinedthat mass deportations are a “brutal response” to “immigration panic.” During this political hysteria, Abbott affirms, that the safety and wellbeing of the deportees can be overlooked with many returning to unsafe environments. A particular concern for those on the 8 March flight is the endemic culture of homophobia in Jamaica. However, there are broader issues of violence in the country and discrimination towards returnees. To address these issues, Jamaican authorities and non-governmental organisations such as theNational Organisation for Deported Migrants (NODM), are collaborating to minimise the difficulties and discrimination returnees could face, though the success of such initiatives is unclear. Since 2008, the UK has invested around £5 million in resettlement projects in Jamaica alone.

The reality is that migrants who entered the UK as young as four years old, and others that have spent several decades here, will be among those deported. Some people will face a situation in which they are forced to return to a country where they have no family or friends, and must assimilate into a culture that is foreign to them.

Pressures to fill private planes and the involvement of several private sector firms can give rise to questionable practices in the handling and processing deportees. Who is there to check that people are treated humanely?Campaigners say that hiding brutality and inhumane treatment from the general public is the very point of ‘ghost flights’. Meanwhile theJamaican authorities appear to take adeferentialapproach, not even questioning fundamental matters of fact.When asked “how certain are the [Jamaican] authorities that those [deported] persons are in fact Jamaicans?” by CVM news, the Jamaican Assistant Police Commissioner for area 4, Devon Watkis, responded that he imagined UK representatives “would have done due diligence from that point.”

Far from being straight forward, however, whether or not an individual should be deported can be a complex legal issue. One womanscheduled to be on the 8 March flight turned tocrowdfunding to support her legal battle against deportation. After 25 years in the UK, indefinite leave to remain and three British children to care for (including one with a serious illness) Sophia was detained in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre and set to be deported despite a pending appeal. It was only as a result of her campaign gaining so much support that she was able to contest her fate. Her case is indicative of the lengths deportees need to go to even to gain access to justice, which becomes ever more illusive following deportation. Sophia’s case is not anomalous. As Corporate Watch outlines, there are many potential human rights breaches associated with mass deportations. Most significantly, that they contravene Protocol No. 4 to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR), which prohibits the “collective expulsion of aliens.” Although the UK has not ratified this protocol, that these flights occur when individuals are in various stages of legal processes and can include violent treatment gives rise to concerns they may breach other rights guaranteed by the ECHR. There is certainly an implication for the right to a private and family life secured under article 8 of the ECHR. These deportations separate families irrespective of the well-publicised social effects. The children of parents who have been deported are more at risk of “psychological trauma, material hardship, residential instability, family dissolution, [and] increased use of public benefits and, among boys, aggression.” 

Furthermore, given the frequency of these ghost deportations to Jamaica (twice in the past six months), and the 110 other Jamaicans deported from the UK on commercial flights since September 2016, the subtle effects on the large British-Jamaican community requires assessment. The Jamaica Observer links these deportations to Jamaican Minister Andrew Holness’ refusal to build a prison on the island to house the 300 Jamaican prisoners in the UK and the British High Commissioner affirms that the returnees are criminals and immigration offenders. Still, the broader diaspora community is affected by these deportations. Arguably, they reinforce the ‘otherness’ of migrants in UK society at a time of growing far-right extremism. These are troubling times, and the least the UK Government can do is weather them with integrity and legality on its side.

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