Children due to be separated from their parents were among eleventh hour legal appeals of a controversial deportation flight to Jamaica on 2 December.
Amid last minute legal bids, The London Economic spoke to one successful detainee and heard unconfirmed reports of six told by the Home office at the eleventh hour that they will not be deported on Wednesday afternoon. Lawyers lodged appeals, including on behalf of young children who face being separated from a parent through no fault of their own.
However others detained were being rounded up and segregated in detention centres ready for removal on the Home Office chartered flight. Dozens of children still face separation from their parents in a mass deportation on Wednesday just as the UK moves into tiered pandemic measures.
The Windrush National Organisation wrote to Priti Patel on Tuesday, warning that the planned mass deportation meant the black community would lose faith in the Home Secretary after a damning report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Members of Black British communities were detained, stopped from working and wrongly removed to Commonwealth countries as part of the Windrush Scandal.
Over 60 MPs also wrote to Priti Patel urging the Home Secretary “cancel the planned deportation of up to 50 Black British residents to Jamaica on Wednesday.”
The MPs who signed the letter penned by Labour MP Clive Lewis warned of the danger to those being removed during a Coronavirus pandemic to a country where “five UK deportees were killed between 2018-2019.” They also warned that families would be split and children “may not even get a chance to say goodbye” to parents booked on the flight.
The news that Priti Patel has charted a plane to deport people to Jamaica on the day lockdown is lifted has caused uproar both in the UK and Jamaica – where many are questioning the Covid risk during the pandemic.
Priti Patel under fire for splitting families before Christmas
With the UK suffering a higher Covid toll than most nations, the Jamaican Gleaner newspaper warned that with at least 60 people on the long flight, all from different households, “there is a very real risk that it will lead to a spread of infection on the island,” all “to distract the British people from the government’s woeful mismanagement of the Covid-19 pandemic in Britain.”
“Many of those facing deportation would have been in the UK since they were infants, and might have no memories of Jamaica and no remaining family on the island,” an editorial in Jamaica’s oldest daily added, citing the Home Office’s attempt to deport identical twins, born in the UK and who have never left, to two different Caribbean islands – Dominica and Grenada.
The Home Secretary Priti Patel is already reeling from a damning report into her culture of bullying at the Home Office, a damning report by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission finding the law broken by the Hostile Environment and Windrush scandals, as well as recent court cases shaming the Home Secretary for depriving British children of their parents.
MPs today accused her of being ready to ignore all that by splitting up more families just before Christmas.
“They think I am coming home the day before my youngest daughter’s sixth birthday”
The London Economic spoke to one father-of-three challenging the Home Secretary’s decision to deport him to a country he had not been to since leaving, aged just 11.
Speaking to the London Economic anonymously on Monday night as he fears for his safety if deported to Jamaica, he said he had been detained on 18 November – a week before his thirtieth birthday – and was being held with many others due to be removed to Jamaica in Colnbrook, part of Heathrow Immigration Removal Centre, run by private contractor Mitie.
He said he and his British partner had not told their three children aged 12, 6 and 5 that their father may be deported to Jamaica. “If I told them I won’t see them again until they are much older they wouldn’t take it well,” he explained. “They are all at school and we can’t put them through that. They think I am coming home the day before my youngest daughter’s sixth birthday.”
“My mum has cancer,” he added. “She is British too. I have an 11-year-old brother who has had to go into care as he has autism and she has cannot look after him. He is autistic and I used to help look after him all the time.”
The father-of-three had been transferred to the detention centre from prison where he was serving time for a drugs offence.
The London Economic understands that at least 10 people who have been rounded up to be deported to Jamaica are classed as “foreign offenders” by the Home Office for drugs offences.
Speaking from his detention cell, the South Londoner said he felt it was a racist policy to punish them doubly – with a prison sentence and then deportation to “a country I don’t know, where I don’t know anybody.”
“I have not been there since I was 11,” he added. “I have just two pounds to my name. I don’t know how I will be able to provide for myself or my three children. I don’t know how I will be able to keep in contact with my kids.”
He said Home Office staff had told him he could keep in touch with his children as they grew up “on Skype.”
“It’s not fair for my brother, for my kids and mum to be punished too. If I didn’t have an immigration problem I would be released home after my sentence. They all have British passports but my mum didn’t sort out a British passport for me. If we had, I wouldn’t be in this position.
“It is a racist policy.”
The father of three said he acknowledged he had committed a crime when he was jailed for a drugs offence in September 2019, and should serve his sentence, but added: “I was unable to work after the Home Office took my passport in 2012, unable to provide from my children legally since they took away my passport, which they shouldn’t have, and I fell in with the wrong crowd.”
He also added that like others on the flight he fears for his life if deported to Jamaica, where deportees from Britain are stigmatised and tragically can be a target for local gangs. He said five people who had been removed on the controversial deportation flight that we broke the news about last February have been killed.
He explained that deportees are “vulnerable and at risk in Jamaica because people think they have money as they are coming from a first world country. It’s very hard for them to open a business there as they are resented. There are no jobs because they know you were deported and when criminals target you, nobody cares.”
UPDATE 1/12/2020: on Tuesday afternoon after a last-minute legal bid the 30-year-old said that the Home Office informed him that he would not be removed on Wednesday.
“I am likely to be killed as well”
Another Londoner due to be deported on Wednesday afternoon also spoke to The London Economic from Colnbrook detention centre. The 45-year-old also said he feared for his life. He too had kept the news he may be deported from his youngest children because they were aware that their uncle who had been deported had been murdered in Jamaica.
“I have four children aged 23, 22, and two are 14. They can’t handle it – they will be destroyed,” he said.
“One of my brothers was deported, and he was murdered in 2015. A gang member shot him nine times. The Home office know about it, I showed them the death certificate and I told them if I go home I am likely to be killed as well because of the gang members there. But they said they don’t believe me.”
The father-of-four had been working as a delivery man when he was detained while signing for the Home Office on 16 November. He was released in July 2019 after a 2014 aggravated burglary – a first offence – and one he said he had not played a major role in.
“I’ve never been in trouble since,” he added. “I’ve done my time, was no trouble in prison, I’ve come out, been supporting my kids. If I get deported what will happen to them? It will break their heart. They will think I will be killed like my brother.”
Movement for Justice coordinator Karen Boyle has been in touch with many of the detained, helping them access justice. She said she was in touch with 20 men.
“At our last count, up to 54 children are set to lose a father,” she said, including at least one child on the autistic spectrum.
“State-sanctioned cruelty to children”
Last month Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID) published research on harm caused to children by forced separation from a parent in deportation cases.
The report documented harm to children including psychological distress, mental health issues such as PTSD, family dissolution, child poverty and food insecurity.
Today BID Director Celia Clarke told The London Economic: “It is absolutely scandalous that this government routinely deports people who have lived here for years and tears parents away from their children.
“In no other setting would a loving parent be forcibly separated from their child. Studies unequivocally confirm the long-term damage that enforced parental separation has on children. The Home Office has a statutory duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and ensure that children’s best interests are a primary consideration in its decision-making. Clearly it is failing dismally to observe that duty. Changes to deportation law are long overdue and this state-sanctioned cruelty to children has to end.”
The Windrush National Organisation wrote to the Home Secretary on Tuesday saying the deportation flight impacted “trust and confidence from the Windrush generation and the wider black community.” Chairman Dr Desmond Jaddoo expressed concerns about scheduling a deportation flight during the height of a new deadly wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. He said criticisms by the Wendy Williams Report into the Windrush Scandal and those wrongly removed from Britain under the Hostile Environment had been ignored.
He told the Gleaner: “We are very concerned because we are aware that once landed, too many of these people have no family or friends returning to. It does beg the question whether or not the Home Office really committed to righting the wrongs, which it has committed, particularly to Jamaicans, because families are on tenterhooks and in fear for the safety of their loved ones.”
Reports have emerged that one of those detained tried to take his own life. Due to his sexual orientation he feared for his safety if deported. Another booked on the flight has 7 children, the youngest only 2 years old.
Chartered flights to Commonwealth countries are a controversial policy. Many who have only known the UK throughout their adult life and have no ties elsewhere are detained unexpectedly, with just days to prepare a legal case, then shackled in the night and bundled onto a specially chartered flight where Her Majesty’s Prison’s Inspectorate recently documented violent treatment by guards.
Shackled and restrained on flights
In February of this year, The London Economic reported 17 British residents deported to Jamaica in a controversial flight despite the pandemic and recent Windrush scandal. Following legal action, the majority of the planned 50 deportations on the February flight were stopped by a Court of Appeal injunction due to serious access to justice violations.
At least four people who were detained and due to be deported on that flight, but were released following an eleventh hour appeal, have since been referred to the National Referral Mechanism for protecting victims of human trafficking, their claims as trafficking victims upheld.
That flight separated at least 27 British children from a parent.
Up to 2,000 people a year are loaded onto secretive deportation flights – generally at night. They are often shackled with waist restraint belts or leg restraints. There have been many reports of manhandling by the security guards. Security is now supplied by private security giant Mitie, under a 10 year £524 million contract.
Charter flight companies include small airlines such as Titan Airways, Hi Fly and Tui, Evelop! and Air Tanker. All five confirmed they were not carrying out the mass-deportation on Wednesday after 82 black British public figures, including model Naomi Campbell, historian David Olusoga, and actress Thandie Newton wrote a letter urging airlines which have previously allowed such charter flights to refuse any assistance.
Corporate Watch identified a plane moved to Stansted by Spanish charter airline Privilege Style that may be involved. Privilege Style’s spokesperson refused to confirm or deny or comment on the flight when approached by The London Economic.
The London Economic also approached the Home Office for comment on whether it is proportionate to separate families in such deportations or schedule flights during a second wave of the pandemic.
We are still waiting a response.
UPDATE 2/12/2020: Despite last minute legal challenges saving over 30 people from being deported, including some the Home Office acknowledged may have been trafficking victims, 13 people are believed to have been put onto a chartered plane to Jamaica in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Some were still waiting for legal reviews of the decision to deport them. All are believed to have family ties in the UK.