‘We cannot let off the hook those complicit with mass deportations’

Earlier this week Zita Holbourne of the campaign group BARAC UK played an active role in trying to stop a deportation flight bound for Jamaica. Here she gives a personal recollection of what happened and how the campaign is continuing

THE CAMPAIGN CONTINUES: BARAC UK's Zita Holbourne

On Tuesday morning (February 11) the second mass deportation by charter flight to Jamaica departed since the Windrush Scandal was exposed.

However it left with  one third of those the government intended to deport on it through the collective efforts of campaigners, lawyers and politicians. 

There were a number of protests , one organised by my organisation BARAC UK and our umbrella group BAME Lawyers for Justice.

There was an emergency debate in Parliament with several MPs throughout the day and evening raising concerns and two class legal actions were lodged.

Legal action taken by Detention Action was won.

On Monday afternoon several individuals who sought asylum or lodged judicial  review applications also had their deportations  cancelled.

One of these, was a 22 year old man who came to the UK aged 4 years old, has British parents and siblings and had indefinite  leave to remain in the UK granted as a child.

At the age of 17 he was groomed and ended up in prison.

Since coming out of prison he has turned his life around, working in the family business and caring for his mother who is experiencing ill health. 

Immigration  Enforcement wrote to advise that his deportation  had been cancelled because there were reasonable grounds to believe he was a victim of modern slavery. 

Early evening on Monday all those booked on the flight at these two centres were advised by the staff there that their flights were cancelled only to find themselves being segregated and isolated  a couple of hours later, in preparation  for transportation to the plane.

ANGER: Despite a court order saying that people should not be deported to Jamaica, the government went ahead with its plans

By this time, the legal case had been won but the government  lodged an appeal and decided to proceed irrespective of the law.

Some of those at these two detention centres were permitted to keep phones so we were able to keep in touch with them through the night.

They were driven from South East England to the North to Doncaster Sheffield airport in coaches and vans, but one severely ill and disabled man was transferred in the convoy of vehicles in an ambulance.

 He has a heart condition and a liver condition and had to be transferred using breathing apparatus.  It is of concern that a doctor acting on behalf of the government,  authorised him as being fit to fly given the severity of his conditions.

When they were half an hour away from the airport, the government lost their appeal but nobody in authority  told the people who were not supposed to be deported this. We were able to let some of them know  but when they told the private security  guards this, they told them it was not true and that they had lost the case.

EMERGENCY MEETING: Diane Abbott MP

We then advised them on how to assert their legal rights not to be deported and what to inform the guards about their collective case.

In the vans and coaches there were only escorts and  private security  guards the latter  responded that it was nothing to do with them and to tell the immigration  officers when they got to the plane.  By this time it was 3.00am.

The vehicles were driven onto the airfield where the plane was waiting.  Each person was surrounded and separated by three security  guards and  they were about to be placed on the plane it was very stressful for all concerned. 

At 4.20am we received a call to advise that those from Harmondsworth  and Colnbrook had just been informed  bar a couple of people that they were not going to be deported. 

They were then put back on the coaches and vans and driven to Morton Hall detention centre in Lincolnshire, arriving there 7.30am but the gates were locked so they had to sit outside for 2 hours awaiting somebody to unlock the gates to the grounds then another hour approximately until the building was unlocked.

‘The Windrush Scandal is far from over’

By this time apart from approximately 45 minutes when they were taken out of vehicles at the airport, they had been sitting in the coaches and vans for 12 hours.

At Morton Hall they were given no information about what was going to happen to them next or how long they were to stay there. 

In the meantime we received many messages from family members – partners and parents saying they did not know if their children and husbands etc had been deported or not as they were not able to make contact and because of the confusion and misinformation throughout the night, adding to the stress.

DEPORTATIONS PROTEST: Some of the protestors who marched from Downing St last year, an event supported by BARAC UK

Of the 50 people who were targeted for deportation on yesterday’s flight  only 17 were taken but those who were taken will face destitution at best. We are aware that some of  those deported on the two previous flights have sadly been murdered or took their own lives.

The Government  has sought to portray all those they targeted for deportation  as the perpetrators of the worst possible crimes and claimed they all had sentences of more than a year.

However this is not true, some were sentenced for just a few months, many of the convictions were from years or decades ago , one was sentenced to a couple of months under now defunct joint enterprise law, another served 7 months for fighting a man sexually harassing his young step daughter.

The government has tried to claim the people booked on the flight have no connection to the Windrush generation but they have absolutely every connection as they came to the UK  to join  Windrush generation parents and grandparents

Zita Holbourne

They have all served their time and  been rehabilitated but now being punished multiple times,  with detention , deportation and exile. 

Several came to the UK as small children, have lived the vast majority of their lives in the UK, have British partners, parents and children, some were groomed by gangs when young but have turned their lives around, been working for many years , even decades and even paying their taxes and contributing  to the economy.

People born in the UK do not receive three sets of punishment for their crime, likewise those who offend who migrated to the UK who are not from the Catibbean, African or Asian continents are not treated like this. Rolf Harris was convicted for paedophilia.

After serving his 3 year sentence he has been allowed to live his life in the UK rather than be deported to Australia. 

There is an impact on their children and families that they are separated from if detained or deported too. 

‘Partners struggle to survive’

Partners struggle to survive as they have nobody to share caring responsibilities,  they will struggle to go to work and earn a living if the person taken is the main carer but equally if they were the main earner they struggle to survive. One partner told me just yesterday that she is really struggling  with her three young children and for the first time has had to make a claim for benefits. 

Information obtained through a recent freedom of information request shows that it can cost up to £12000 to deport one individual, not to mention the cost of people being in detention.

Those who have been to prison all report conditions in detention are far worse and there is no way of knowing how long you will be there or what your fate will be.

There have been reports recently of vermin and lack of heating also.

Yesterday a woman held at Yarlswood detention centre was found not guilty of assaulting 4  private security guards with the judge making quite clear that in fact the 11 Serco guards who physically attacked her , which was all caught on camera had breached her human rights at a time when she was clearly afraid and distressed at being deported with the guards claiming she was “non compliant “.

‘Fearing for her life’

She was thrown to the floor, was fearing for her life and sustained multiple injuries, yet they had the audacity to try to sue her for assault.

Inhumane conditions and heavy handed private security companies demonstrate that detention  centres along with forced mass deportations must end.

On Thursday last week the severely delayed leaked lessons learned report revealed a recommendation that nobody who came to the UK as children  should be deported. 

However the government ignored this despite campaigners calling for this and all such flights to be halted until the report is published and acted upon fully.

BARAC,  BAME Lawyers for Justice,  my union PCS and the TUC have called for an Independent Public Inquiry into the Windrush scandal. Again there should be no deportations until there is one.

The vast majority of people eligible have received no compensation from the Windrush compensation scheme with the process of applying complicated and the cost of lawyers prohibiting applications.

The Windrush scandal is far from over. It has destroyed multi generational families,  left people destitute,  homeless,  jobless and exiled, caused pain, trauma and even death.

The government has tried to claim the people booked on the flight have no connection to the Windrush Generation but they have absolutely every connection as they came to the UK  to join  Windrush generation parents and grandparents.  

We cannot let off the hook those complicit with such deportations,  private companies  involved in removals and security, coach companies,  airlines and carriers, airports and the governments of countries like Jamaica who allow such planes to land.

VOICE OF OPPOSITION: Streatham MP Bell Ribeiro Addy

Jamaica claim they have no choice citing international law but we know other countries refuse such flights.

An emergency meeting  called in Parliament  on Wednesday evening was completely full with people travelling from around the country with less than 24 hours notice to discuss deportation  flights, Windrush compensation and the hostile environment and this was hosted and chaired by the Shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott MP.

Speakers included myself, representatives from Detention Action,  Movement for Justice and Windrush Action plus Shadow immigration minister,  new MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy. 

Several new black women MPs attended also.

The meeting agreed to work together – communities, grassroots campaigners, lawyers and politicians and agreed there was a need for a solid campaign responding to these injustices,  human rights abuses and racism not just when a flight is planned but all the time. 

130000 have signed our petition calling for charter flights to Jamaica and commonwealth countries to end.

Follow on social media the organisations mentioned in this article for updates. 

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