Charter Flight Deportations ‘Forcing Families Apart’

Outside Downing Street last Thursday ANTHEA HART gave a moving account of how her family was forced apart by forced deportation

A TOTAL of 17 people were deported on a chartered flight by the Johnson government to Jamaica early on Tuesday morning.

The action was condemned by campaigners, including 170 cross-party MPs, as ‘forcing families apart’.

Late on Monday, a Court of Appeal judge ruled that the government should not deport 25 detainees from Colnbrooke and Harmondsworth detention centres, near Heathrow, after lawyers argued that mobile phone signal problems meant some of the detainees could not get legal advice.

The ruling said the government must not deport anyone from those centres unless they had access to a functioning, non-O2 Sim card on or before 3 February.

In a statement, the prime minister’s spokesman said: ‘We bitterly regret the court decision that stopped the 25 people from leaving, and will urgently appeal.’

Detention Action, a campaining charity, had sought an urgent court injunction preventing individuals who had not been given proper access to legal advice being deported to Jamaica or anywhere else.

The charity, represented by national firm Duncan Lewis, said none of those detained at the Heathrow detention centres was able to make mobile phone calls because of a problem with an O2 mast.

As a result, they lacked proper means to access legal advice which should have been possible for the full five-day notice period leading up to their removal.

Bella Sankey, director of Detention Action, said: ‘In these cases where people have been here for a long time and are to all intents and purposes British, by deporting individuals like that you are doubly punishing them.

‘For many of these individuals deportation is a much harsher sentence than the time they’ve already served.

‘Imagine being forever banished from the country you grew up in, unable to visit all of your close family and friends.’

Downing Street said 17 people were deported, but 25 others had been stopped because of the court order.

All of those deported or still threatened with deportation are Jamaican nationals who have been convicted of criminal offences and given prison sentences of 12 months or more.

One woman, whose husband was taken off the flight, said there was confusion over what would happen next.

Tonique Kerr said her husband, Reshawn Davis, who has been in the UK for 20 years, was among those told on Monday that he would not be on the flight.

‘We don’t know what’s happening,’ she said.

She said her husband had been sentenced to 14 months in prison – although only served two months – under the controversial joint enterprise law, after two mobile phones were stolen and he was ‘just there when it happened’.

‘He came (to the UK) when he was 11,’ she said. ‘He’s not actually been back since he’s come to this country. He’s now 30, he’s spent most of his life here.’

Shabana Mahmood MP said one of her constituents had also been taken off the flight. ‘He actually served in the British Armed Forces,’ she said. ‘He did two tours of Afghanistan, when he came back he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

‘He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and that sort of began the deterioration of his mental health, after which he was convicted for GBH.

‘His mental health has continued to deteriorate and his argument has always been: he’s served this country, he hasn’t had help for the PTSD he picked up as a serving soldier for our country. So it really goes to the heart of our notions of what it is to be a citizen.’

Immigration lawyer Jacqueline Mckenzie said: ‘There needs to be a moral debate about this because it cannot be right that we are picking up people in their 30s who arrived at two… and sending them to countries that they don’t know, leaving behind all their family.’

Tottenham MP David Lammy said: ‘It is an outrage that the deportation flight to Jamaica has departed this morning.

‘As the leaked recommendation from Wendy Williams’ Lessons Learned Review showed, the government should not be deporting people who arrived in the UK as children to countries they do not know.

‘The government wants to give the impression that everyone who was deported was a hardened violent criminal, but the reality is many of those who were scheduled to be deported had committed non-violent one-time drugs offences.

‘The lessons from Windrush have not been learned. Lives are being ruined because we don’t remember our history.’

One of those who had been due to be deported on Tuesday was father-of-five Howard Ormsby. ‘I came here at the age of 15 with my older sister and I’ve been here 18 years of my life,’ the 32-year-old said from the detention centre at Harmondsworth, west London.

‘I have all my family here – I have no-one in Jamaica,’ he added.

Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s Refugee and Migrant Rights Director, said: ‘The fact this deportation flight has gone ahead is extremely concerning.

‘Among the most glaring injustice is the government’s complete disregard for the rights and lives of people who have grown up in this country since childhood.

‘A number of people the Home Office sought to deport on this the flight are likely to have had rights to British citizenship as children – rights that were denied to them by the Home Office’s excessively high fees for citizenship.

‘To exile people from their home and families, after depriving them of their rights in the first place, is cruel.

‘It is a disgrace that two years on from the promise to learn lessons from the Windrush scandal – which also saw people wrongly denied their British citizenship and unlawfully deported – the Home Office continues to use harmful policies and practice to deprive people of their rightful citizenship.

‘We need to see an urgent and fundamental change to the way the government respects the rights of its citizens.

‘As a minimum, there should be no further deportation flights until the Windrush Lessons Learned Review is published and its recommendations addressed.’

A protest outside Downing Street on Monday evening ended up with demonstrators blocking the roads around Parliament Square.

Miranda Grell, a barrister and campaigner for BAME (Black and Minority Ethnic) Lawyers for Justice, said on Tuesday: ‘Early this morning, despite last-ditch efforts by heroic immigration lawyers who battled in the Court of Appeal until the early hours, a charter left Britain for Jamaica – its passengers forcibly deported.

‘The deportees – all of them of Jamaican descent, but not all of them are Jamaican – were mostly young men with young families or elderly relatives, some with both. Many grew up in the UK, went to school in the UK and have jobs supporting families in the UK.

‘The irony, of course, is that the Conservative party has always preached family values. Why, then, has it sought to glorify the deportation of young men – some of them stay-at-home fathers – and rip apart families? If these deportations continue, the government’s actions will engender a new generation of fatherless black children vulnerable to gangs and mercenaries.

‘So why were they forcibly removed from a country in which they have made their lives? The government wants you to believe that every passenger on the flight was a hardened criminal.

‘In parliament, labels of the most heinous kind have been thrown around like confetti in order to justify the flight.

‘Over the last few days, ministers have been shameless in their efforts to exaggerate the deportees’ bad characters, with devastating consequences – not only for these young men, but for the integrity of the country they once called home.

‘But thankfully, decent-minded Britons have seen through the government’s smears. From the 170 parliamentarians who wrote to the prime minister urging him to intervene, to the lawyers who brought the emergency legal actions in court, to the grassroots black British groups that have led protests outside Downing Street, we are outraged by the flight, and all it symbolises.

‘We are angry because this mass deportation proves that for all its “lessons learned” reviews, the government has not learned a thing from the Windrush scandal. In fact, the flight rubs salt in the wounds of the Windrush generation, the majority of whom are still uncompensated, and suffering mentally and physically because of their own government’s disgraceful ill-treatment.

‘The government’s willingness to deport people of African Caribbean heritage has retraumatised many of us who share it. In the most painful way, we have been reminded that our government continues to view us as not fully British, and therefore dispensable.’