On Wednesday morning at 2am, 13 people, who had either completed, or nearly completed, prison sentences within the UK, were deported by the Home Office to Jamaica, due to the fact that they had not been in this country from birth. Originally at least 50 people were due to be on board that same chartered plane. Thanks to vigorous campaigning from MPs, groups such as Detention Action and No Borders MCR, immigration lawyers, as well as more than 90 Black public figures, Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, and her colleagues reluctantly took 37 people off the flight.
Despite the Home Office’s deportation plan being largely thwarted, it still found reason to gloat on its Twitter account:
“Today we have returned 13 foreign national offenders to Jamaica. The individuals on board this removal flight are dangerous foreign criminals who have been convicted of murder, sex offences and dealing drugs. None of them are eligible for Windrush support.”
The Home Office subsequently tweeted that they are still “working through the barriers” to deport 23 people, labelled “serious criminals”, of the 37 who were removed from the deportation flight. The repeated use of numbers and generalising references to criminality and foreign status reflects the many replies by members of the public to the Home Office’s tweets:
“Hopefully the other 37 who dodged the bullet are safely locked up somewhere until they are kicked out too.”… “Good job done.. just get the others out ASAP”… “Great news, only 2999,987 to go”… “Don’t be shy send more (British Flag Emoji)”.
The homogenous, cold-blooded language used by the Home Office to describe and comment upon this situation is exemplary of the thoughtlessness, haste, even thirst, for these mass deportations. Indeed “mass” is the key word here. If you take the time to read about the individuals, you realise how irrelevant is the concept of a “case by case basis” to the sensitive matter of one’s home.
Among some of the people who managed to stay in the UK was a 30-year-old man who came to the UK aged 11. There are indications of his having been trafficked by county lines gangs during his twenties, leading to his conviction and potential deportation. He has two British daughters aged six and seven and stated that he didn’t know “what I would have done if I was sent out there. I would have been stuck in limbo. I would have had to leave my family behind.”
Another man who was taken off the flight had four children in the UK, and was convicted for being in possession of an air gun in 2017, for which he had served his time. One man has a mother and four siblings with British citizenship, but never had the money for “naturalisation” i.e. confirming British citizenship, which costs over £1,000. He too had served his two year prison sentence for intent to sell Class A drugs. Had the flight not gained significant public attention, all these children would be without their fathers.
What about the people that stayed on the plane? Among the people that wrote to the Home Office to stop the flight was the young son of one of the men who are now living in Jamaica, the country that Priti Patel deems their “homeland”. In his letter, the boy says that he loves his dad and can “talk through my ideas” with him. He explains that “if he is sent to Jamaica, I might not be able to see him again.” The boy mentions that his birthday is coming up and he had hoped to enjoy his birthday with his father, going out to eat and to the cinema, now replaced by a “phone call”. He ends the letter thus: “People are making decisions about my dad. When they grew up they probably had a dad. The decisions they make mean I won’t have a dad with me. Please let my dad stay with me.” Yet this young boy’s plea was ignored by the Home Office.
There are many issues arising from and inherent in both the execution of these charter flights, and the laws that it relies upon; only a few will be discussed here. Most obviously, the lack of proper analysis of the individual situations is abundantly clear, proven by the proportion of people that were taken off the flight at the last minute. The Government has created a “Deportation and Charter Flight Factsheet”, designed to provide “transparency” for the deportation process. What it actually shows, are loose, undefined terms, and an utter discordance with reality. The document states that a foreign national may be deported where it is “conducive to the public good”; exceptions are made when it is in “public interest”. The vagueness of these terms calls for the individuals in question to have proper legal representation, with in-depth discussions about the specifics of each person’s situation and how deportation or remaining in this country would actually affect the lives of others. Yet clearly the system only allows for this to happen if there is substantial help from independent campaigns and charities, which can provide adequate legal aid.
The factsheet claims that “every person who meets the threshold for deportation is given access to legal advice and support and has an opportunity to challenge their removal through the legal system”. Well, if appropriate legal aid were indeed given, with enough time ahead of the decision, then surely it ought not to have been left to within a few hours before the flight left the ground, that the majority of the deportees were allowed to remain. One cannot ignore the fact that spending on legal aid has shrunk by more than £1 billion in the last five years. This means that most people, least of all ex-convicts from working-class backgrounds and ethnic minorities will not have the money to challenge their deportation with adequate legal support.
In the parliamentary debate a day before the flight was due to leave, Chris Philp, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office, told the Commons:
“Those being deported have ample opportunity to raise reasons why they should not be. We are, however, already seeing a number of last-minute legal claims.” Is the minister really suggesting that these people suddenly decided to challenge their deportation? That only a few days before the scheduled flight, many of these people woke up and thought: “You know what? Actually I am going to try and stay in the country that has been my home most of my life?”
It is reminiscent of a teacher telling a student off for choosing not do their homework for the deadline: “You’ve had lots of time!” Except in this case it’s not homework, it’s their entire lives, and it’s not just time that is needed, but a lot of money, public support and parliamentary opposition. The reason that this debate even happened, and that some of the people due to be on the flight managed to stay in the country (for now), is because of an extremely strong campaign led by various organisations which put the spotlight upon these cases and secured legal aid. Had this campaign never happened, 37 more people would be unjustly forced to Jamaica right now, separated from their family and friends, never to be able to return to the UK, their home, again. And even now, the Home Office continues to work hard to deport 23 of these people — efforts, I might add, that are costing hundreds of thousands of pounds.
What this case also sheds light on is the complex issue of deportation as a further additional punishment to the original one imposed by the court. A prison sentence is a serious punishment, whereby one’s freedoms are completely taken away by the state, for long periods of time. In no way am I, or are any of the campaigners against this mass deportation, saying that these prison sentences were unjust, and that the people at risk of deportation should not pay retribution for the crimes that they have committed. But deportation is just as harsh, if not a much harsher, punishment than a prison sentence. Surely, if an offender has completed their court ordered sentence, then any further punishment must also be taken to court, and properly argued for. No, instead the Home Office lump many different Black people, from a wide range of situations, onto a plane and then, when these people do luckily gain support from independent campaigns, the Home Office gaslight them for not speaking up sooner.
The Home Office might reply by pointing to the UK Borders Act 2007 or the Immigration Act 1971. Under these laws, if those convicted are not UK citizens, then, by law, they must be deported after receiving a custodial sentence of over 12 months. But this law contains the assumption that deportation is not a form of further serious state-imposed punishment. Yet it so clearly is. Thus it cleverly allows people to receive further convictions for their crime, without the legal requirement of a fair trial. Yet of course, because these people did not manage to gain citizenship (I reiterate, it costs over a grand for naturalisation), despite having spent most of their lives here forming families and friendships they are, of course treated with horrifyingly different standards. And this policy is executed under the guise of a law that uses the aforementioned vague terminology such as “public good”, leaving space for the domineering power of the Home Office. The Home Office can, does, and will continue to make some of the most life-destroying decisions this or any Government makes, without a requirement for a proper legal challenge.
In reaction to the many accusations of institutional racism, as this charter flight is so reminiscent of the Windrush Scandal, the Home Office states that “in the year ending June 2020 there were 5,208 enforced returns, of which 2,630 were to EU countries and 33 were to Jamaica.” I am aware that the Home Office is arguing that they do not discriminate against people based upon their race and/or nationality. But this statement simply totalises how many more deportations are carried out under the radar, without any proper legal challenges from the public and adequate lawyers.
That people at the bottom of this country’s social hierarchy are always the first to go is further shown by this week’s instatement of the Home Office’s new rules on rough sleeping. Being a rough sleeper will be a ground for refusing permission to stay and/or cancelling existing permission to remain in the UK. Rather incredibly framed as a method to reduce rough sleeping, this policy will of course just put more people in danger, as the homeless will now be fearful of appealing for help from the authorities and even charities. It will also increase chances of human trafficking, as rough sleepers will be forced to take dangerous opportunities for shelter.
And even when the public exercise their right to challenge the Home Office’s decisions, they too can be met with its oppressive attitude. Take the case of the Stansted 15 in 2017. There, anti-deportation protesters locked themselves to an aircraft at Stansted airport, preventing a charter flight due to remove asylum seekers and other migrants from the UK from taking off. These activists were arrested, and convicted with “terrorism-related charges”. If only the Home Office received the same treatment. Indeed if people who possess citizenship are being penalised in this way for opposing governmental decisions, then what must it be like for someone who doesn’t have citizenship? It is on this basis that Home Office officials have been able to continually expand their powers. Only those with a lot of money, public support and widespread media attention, can properly dispute these dictatorial powers.
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