The Unity Centre supports many people in immigration detention, in many diverse situations.
The Immigration Detention system is supposed to be like a holding system for people who will “imminently” be removed or deported. In theory, this means that people should only enter the detention system if their case is completely exhausted and the Home Office are ready to book them onto a flight to their country of origin. This is seldom the case – many people are issued tickets whilst they have an open case, when their lawyer is on holiday, or whilst waiting for some vital document. Worse still, many people are kept in detention for many months and often years, often moved between many centres, while the Home Office figure out what to do with them. Casework and para-legal/legal work on someone’s case can only go so far when the Home Office have decided to give them a ticket.
This is where you can help.
Action from members of the public has historically been effective in stopping many people’s fights. When someone is due to be “removed”, and with their full consent, the Unity Centre often makes Urgent Action Appeals for people in detention. These are appeals to the public to take action in attempting to persuade the airline to refuse to participate in a forced removal. These appeals are about trying to maximise a) public shaming on these private companies (eg., British Airways or Kenyan Airways) who are profiting from forced removal and b) the accountability of their workers, and trying to persuade someone in the company to intervene.
Phoning an airline to ask them to refuse to carry a passenger can be quite daunting so here are some tips that might help. Should you have any further questions, you’re more than welcome to contact the Unity Centre.
1. When you call the airline, you will need the person’s Name, Flight Details and Home Office Reference Number. You do not have to say who you are, other than that you are a concerned member of the public, shocked that an airline like theirs would participate in forced removal.
2. People have lots of different ways of talking to people in these situations – some people are very harsh, some people prefer to be very calm. It’s important to remember that the people you are speaking to are not police and not immigration, that they can’t “get you into trouble”, as you are just a member of the public making a complaint.
3. You are asking the airline to “refuse to participate in this forced removal and not allow the person to be taken on the flight”. You are making them aware that the person is in grave risk of danger (or even death) if removed to their country. You are asking them to make the pilot aware of the removal, and of any details it feels appropriate to share (eg. “this person has an open case” or “they are not actually from the country where this flight is going”).
4. Pilots have the discretionary power to take people off their flights. If we are doing an action appeal for someone it is likely we will be briefing them about trying to catch the attention of the public or the pilot when on the plane. If the pilot can already be aware that there is a person being removed and, crucially, public awareness of this, they may be moved to act. Many people that Unity have supported have been taken off flights after members of the public have complained or after the pilot has seen it as “too much trouble”. One woman we know was taken on the first flight successfully but when they tried to board her onto her second flight, from Paris to Ivory Coast, the pilot could see that she had been injured and was greatly distressed and the Home Office had to bring her back to the UK.
5. This is not a nice point to make, but historically people have been killed in this process. Most famously, in October 2010, Jimmy Mubenga was murdered by G4S guards, on a British Airways plane deporting him from Heathrow, London. This is, obviously, not good press for airlines and it’s worth reminding them that this kind of thing can happen.
6. If you call and the person you are speaking to is making the conversation hard for you, you can ask to speak to a manager. If they refuse, you can simply hang up and dial again.
7. If you can tweet/email/facebook the airline, this is a very useful tactic. If enough people engage or smear them on social media, their social media team have to work more to keep their public pages free from thetruth. Airlines, like any other capitalist companies, want the world to think they’re “good”, and having the realities of their participation in this system all over their social media washes that away fairly quickly.
It’s important to remember just how many awful things the Home Office and all of the organisations and companies that work with it get away with purely because people are not watching them. A real difference can be made if these organisations and companies realise that we are watching them, and that the public is aware of what they are doing.
If enough people take action – both by smearing these airlines and by trying to persuade their workers to act, people can get off flights. Remember, these workers are also people and many of them will feel something about what their company is doing, and can possibly be motivated to act. Solidarity means all standing together against the racist infrastructure of forced removals from this country, whether in our jobs, in our lunch-breaks or at home.