The UK government’s decision to forcibly remove 50 people to Jamaica on Wednesday morning, deporting them on a private charter plane, was unjust and unfair.
Among those targeted were parents, grandparents and partners of people still resident in the UK, some who are primary carers and one with a mental health condition. All but one had children. Many had been living in the UK for over 10 years, with some arriving in the country as small children, even babies.
Lawyers representing some of those who were targeted were successful on Tuesday evening in challenging the deportation of their clients, with at least seven people taken off the flight.
But many more were unsuccessful. It was inappropriate for the UK to gather up so many and such a mix of people – each facing different circumstances and with a different status – in one big sweep, and to charter an aircraft to deport them all at once. Because of the way in which they were removed, the assumption made by some people is that they were all criminals and all in the UK illegally. This has stigmatised everyone on the flight.
One had arrived to sign in with his baby. While detaining him, the Home Office called social services to take the baby
Many will have built lives in the UK, have not known Jamaica as an adult and have no family there. Their families in the UK have been ripped apart. On their arrival in Jamaica they will be vulnerable and may face homelessness, poverty and destitution.
On Wednesday morning I spoke to the partner of one of the people on the flight. He, like all asylum seekers, was required by the Home Office to sign in frequently at reporting centres or police stations. She told me that two weeks ago, when signing in, he was seized, handcuffed and sustained injuries, and taken to an immigration removal centre. He has a heart condition and diabetes and was subsequently taken to a hospital where his injuries were photographed. He had been signing in every week and electronically tagged for two years.
A few months ago he went through an appeal, and then a fresh appeal was refused, as well as a judicial review. His partner said he had access to a phone and was able to call her from the plane; he told her he had been driven right up to the plane, surrounded by police and taken to an undisclosed location. Each of the people on the flight was taken on board one by one.
In the background, as he spoke, she could hear crying, screaming and shouting from others on the flight. The pleas and cries will haunt her for ever, she added; the heart has been ripped out of her family. She and her partner have seven children and four grandchildren between them, and her partner was their only grandfather. This is one family’s story, but there will be many others like this.
Among those rounded up to be removed are a former soldier who served in the British army, a father of three who arrived in the UK aged four, and one who had arrived to sign in with his baby in a pushchair. While detaining him, the Home Office called social services to take his baby.
This “snatching” of people with no warning who are attending their routine signing-in appointments could make individuals fearful of attending putting them in a Catch-22 position. These are human beings who deserve to be treated with dignity and not have fear instilled in them.
Astonishingly, the Home Office suggests that people who have been deported can remain in touch with family and keep up their parenting responsibilities via Skype and email.