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Challenging the brutal deportation system is a must

CHALLENGE: Stansted 15 convictions have been described as a 'crushing blow for human rights in UK'

IN MARCH2017, 15 people made their way to a remote part of Stansted airport, where deportation charter flights have been known to take off in the middle of the night.

The 15 were part of a wider network of people, and were acting on knowledge that the flight leaving that night would be deporting people to Ghana and Nigeria.

Detained Voices, a group of immigration detainees and supporters had been publishing testimonies of some of those due to be on that flight.

The detainees included victims of trafficking, people with ongoing cases, a man leaving behind a pregnant partner and a woman whose former husband had publicly announced his plans to kill her if she ever set foot back in Nigeria. Those now known as the Stansted 15 read some of those testimonies on their way to the airport.

Once there, they chained themselves around the front wheel of the plane and erected a brightly-coloured tripod by the plane’s wing, staying on the tarmac for ten hours, successfully preventing it from taking off. Following the action, 11 people were able to stay in the country, some of their stories finally allowed some time in the spotlight.

Crucially, this was the first time a deportation flight had been grounded in the UK by people taking action against the immigration system.

Charter deportations flights are the government practice of chartering entire flights to deport large numbers of people to specific countries. The flights don’t contain other passengers and take off late at night from undisclosed locations, sometimes military bases, hiding these deportations from public view.

There is substantial evidence that people being deported experience violence and abuse on these secret flights, where they are forced to travel handcuffed and tied with waist restraint belts. In 2017, Diane Abbott described charter flights as “a brutal way of responding to the current immigration panic.” Investigations by Corporate Watch revealed that the government selects people for deportation by perceived nationality so that it can fill flights, including people with ongoing legal claims.

The controversial ‘deport first, appeal later’ policy was been ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court, only 4 months after the action but there are many other ways the government deports people with ongoing claims.

Following the action, all 15 activists were convicted under anti-terrorism laws, the first time these laws were used against peaceful protestors, and found guilty in Chelmsford crown court in November 2018 following a trial which lasted 10 weeks. This constitutes a serious assault on democracy and our right to protest.

While only 15 people were sitting accused in the dock, many of us knew that a whole racist immigration system was on trial too. By conducting the trial in the way that they did, the courts sided with a system that is brutal and inhumane.

Throughout the ordeal of the trial, the End Deportations campaign has been growing, finding friends and allies, and working closely with other groups such as the All African Women’s group, the Chelmsford Quakers, Schools ABC and BARAC UK.

Importantly, the campaign has been steadfast in making sure that the spotlight remained focused on the brutal immigration regime, often using their own experiences of the criminal justice system to draw attention to the appalling conditions experienced by the thousands of people currently filling up immigration detention centres up and down the country who can be held without time limit.

While the Stansted 15 have been found guilty, there is still hope that their convictions will be overturned. The wind is turning for this brutal immigration regime. The Windrush scandal revealed deep public opposition for the hostile environment and the brutal treatment of so many of our families, friends and neighbours.

Groups such as detained Voices and Soas Detainee Support have been alerted of another charter flight due to take off any time between today and the 15th of February to Jamaica.

This would be the first charter flight to head to Jamaica since the beginning of the Windrush scandal. Already groups are coming together to lobby politicians to try and stop the flight from taking off and meetings have been organised up and down the country for people who want to know what they can do to prevent immigration raids and deportations from taking place.

On Wednesday, the Stansted 15 will be sentenced. It is likely that some of them will be looking at custodial time. Whatever happens on Wednesday, a week of action against the government’s brutal immigration regime has been planned for the 11-15th February and many are getting ready to protest against the imminent charter flight to Jamaica.

When a country imprisons some people for peaceful protest, snatches others from their homes in dawn raids, incarcerates them without time limit and forces them onto planes in the middle of the night, due to take them to places where their lives might be at risk, something is very seriously wrong. Thankfully, more and more of us are getting involved in challenging this brutal, inhumane system. Together, we can end the hostile environment for good.

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