Home Office Restarts Racist Jamaica Charter Flights

PRESS RELEASE: MASS DEPORTATION CHARTER FLIGHT TO JAMAICA SET FOR WEDNESDAY 7TH SEPTEMBER, 2016.

A charter flight is scheduled to depart from London at 06:30hrs on Wednesday September 7th for JAMAICA. This is the first charter flight to Jamaica since 6th November 2014. Charter flights are privately chartered ghost flights that leave from an undisclosed location early in the morning, private security guards enforce the removals with no public present. On the basis of previous charter flight reports from London, it is assumed the company contracted to operate this flight is Titan Airways. Charter flights cost on average over £200,000 per flight. James (not his real name) wonders why the government is cutting benefits when they can find the money for these planes.

Unity has been speaking with over 50 Jamaican individuals, currently detained across the UK’s immigration detention estate. These people are set to be forcibly removed on Wednesday morning.

In the last few weeks, hundreds of individuals previously released on bail and temporary admission have been detained, in a deliberate act to prepare for this charter flight to Jamaica. Many individuals have ongoing immigration cases and most cannot afford to pay the huge legal fees to regularise their stay. Everyone we have spoken to has been here since they were children and have no family or friends in Jamaica. Their lives are here in the UK. Everyone we have spoken to has British family, children and partners, even grandchildren and extended family.

People in immigration detention are asking that their voices are heard. They want the public to know that they were racially profiled and strategically detained in order to fill this charter flight, without consideration of their individual circumstances . They want people to understand that this charter flight will be tearing families apart.

People issued tickets for the charter flight on Wednesday have complied with the conditions imposed on them by the Home Office. They have succumbed to the Home Office’s every demand and now feel like they have been tricked and kidnapped. Each person told the same story – they went to sign at the Home Office reporting centre as required and were tricked. They were told that they must have a quick interview and taken into a room, 3 hours later they were detained. One man even told of his friend who had attended the reporting centre with his baby in a pushchair. The Home Office called social services to pick up the baby and detained the father.

Everyone we spoke to came to the UK as a child. One friend came here aged 4. All bar one person has British children. One man has been married to a British national for 12 years. Two of the men are full time carers to their partners. The Home Office maintain that family relationships can be maintained via phone, email and Skype. Ray (not his real name) previously stated: “Immigration Judges tell us we can maintain our family life over Skype. But how can you take your child to school through Skype? How can you have a relationship with your wife over Skype?”

Many people have been swept up as part of ‘Operation Nexus’ – the controversial initiative whereby police collude with the Home Office to build cases for deportation. Under ‘Operation Nexus’ you need not have even been convicted of a crime. Some of the people we spoke to, due to be deported on Wednesday, have never even been convicted of a crime. Those that have served custodial sentences served their sentences. This is simply a racist double punishment.

The Home Office has no regard for these deportee’s safety. In its recent report on Jamaica 2015/16, Amnesty International finds that ‘Jamaica continued to have one of the highest homicide rates per capita in the world. Violent crime remained a key concern for the public. Between January and June, police recorded 1,486 reports of serious and violent crimes, classified as murders, shootings, rapes and aggravated assaults. According to media reports, there were more than 1,100 murders during the year, an increase of approximately 20% compared with 2014. ‘ This highlights the danger that the people being forcibly removed from their families in the UK by the Home Office will face on their return. They will also not have access to justice on their return. In its report on Jamaica, Amnesty has also found that there are ‘Major backlogs in the judiciary’ this has led to ‘continued delays and hampered access to justice. In particular, investigations into police killings remained slow. With a high number of new cases and few resources, the capacity of the Coroner´s Court to help resolve the backlog also remained limited.’ The people being removed have no recourse to the courts and are also in danger from the law enforcement agencies in Jamaica.

Many on this week’s charter flight have been given the “right” to appeal once they have been deported. The Home Office maintain that having already been deported doesn’t mean you won’t have a ‘fair trial’ – commonsense says otherwise. From The Unity Centre’s experience of continued contact with individuals given out of country appeal rights, it is clear that the uncertain and sometimes extremely volatile conditions in Jamaica essentially mean that individuals have in effect no right of appeal. The Unity Centre is currently in contact with at least one individual who is pursuing an out of country appeal – who, upon being forcibly removed to Bangladesh, is street homeless and severely ill – meaning that he is unable to even afford enough phone credit to call a lawyer in the UK. This is a right that exists only on paper as there is still not a single instance of its success that has come to the attention of the Unity Centre. It is there with the sole purpose of giving the Home Office a reason to engage in human rights violations without fear of scrutiny, censure and democratic oversight. Charter flights enable individuals with extremely convincing reasons for staying in the UK to be removed en-masse with very few questions asked.

Charter flights are incredibly difficult to challenge, specifically due to the simple fact that they are specially chartered by the Home Office; for example, in a letter addressed to an individual facing forced removal in 2014, the Home Office states that due to the “effort and expense” of a charter flight, a judicial review (of Home Office practice – which has been successful for over 36% people seeking asylum) may not necessarily defer forced removal. In doing so, the Home Office simultaneously contradicts its own assertion that charter flights are cost-effective (the average cost per person being removed in 2015 was over £5000). Whilst Detained Fast Track was ruled unlawful, from speaking to detainees it is clear that similar barriers to accessing justice through legal representation persist – and that the Home Office is deliberately using its powers to limit those that are vulnerable and most in need of legal protection. The Home Office policy of relying on chartered flights lacks transparency, raises serious concerns about human rights violations at taxpayer’s expense.

In the afternoon, detainees are taken (often with force) from detention, handcuffed, and put onto coaches bound for the airport. “Reserve” detainees are kept on coaches, unaware if they are being put on the plane or not until after the flight has actually left – demonstrating the Home Office’s clear emphasis on filling the flight regardless of the legal merit of detainees’ individual cases. Standard practice is that each person facing removal is accompanied by two security guards (contracted to companies such as Tascor and G4S); so, for a flight forcibly removing 80 people, there would be 160 guards present. Handcuffed detainees are forced onto the plane under the threat of violence, often with unnecessary and excessive wrist and waist restraint belts, which are often kept on continuously for the whole journey, with head restraints for those who attempt to resist (brought in following the death of Jimmy Mubenga in 2010). One independent report found that the use of waist restraints, which circulate around the entire body and hold one’s hands and arms firmly by one side, even fails to comply with Home Office guidelines of exceptional circumstances – but have instead become routine.

Let us be clear, this is collective expulsion. The people set to fly on Wednesday are not those with particularly weak cases, they’ve been rounded up because they’re Jamaican. These people have nobody in Jamaica and nowhere to go when they touch down in Kingston. They will be torn from families leaving wives and children behind.

These people are carers to partners, fathers to children, members of communities. The UK is their home. Black lives don’t matter to this government. The legacy of this punitive regime will breed nothing but broken families, more crime and hate. Some of these men are angry. How can anyone blame them. Charter flights are short-sighted, racist, cost ineffective and callous. 

For more information contact The Unity Centre via unitycentremedia@gmail.com

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