Every month without fail we watch as countless numbers of our friends get sent out of the UK via mass expulsion on privately chartered flights full of immigration detainees to Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Tomorrow is yet another flight to Nigeria – ironically called ”Operation Majestic” and throughout the day we have been contacted via different support organisations all wondering the same things that we are – what can we do for out friend with removal directions for tomorrow.
While charter flights, the process of mass expulsion, are heavily criticised and opposed by activists and supporters there is little that can be done to campaign or fight against them. We are opposed to charter flights not only because of their humiliating and degrading nature but also due to constant reports of privately contracted planes being filled at any cost. This means that many of the barriers to removal such as unfitness to fly, still having a legal case ongoing and lacking travel documents are often overlooked.
This can be illustrated in the case of hunger striker Isa Muazu who was put on a private jet just himself when on his deathbed, after refusing food for 100 days. Despite this flight being returned from Malta the following day, that allegedly cost £108,000, and despite every legal action being taken and doctors stating Mr Muazu was unfit to fly he was eventually removed visa charter flight along with over 80 other Nigerian and Ghanian nationals some weeks later. Activists previously chained themselves to buses full of immigration detainees heading to the airport where a chartered plane awaited to take them to Sri Lanka. While this act of solidarity caused a considerable delay and increased cost of the operation the flight went ahead and it became clear, as did the case of Isa Muazu, that financial cost is no barrier to the immigration agenda of this country.
The mainstream media recently picked up on one very key issue that enables charter flights and that is the practice of issuing ”secret payments” to embassies and high commissions in order to provide or issue emergency travel documents so that detainees from countries like Nigeria and Pakistan can be forcibly removed from the UK in the most degrading way – carted off en mass and channeled through cargo terminals at airports.
We have been aware of this practice for some time now and are utterly saddened that individuals’ lives and rights are so easily bought by those most aware of the situations these individuals have left behind. It has in fact been quoted to me from numerous sources that the Pakistani government is paid £5,000 per Pakistani National returned from the UK. The Nigerian and Pakistani authorities make visits into immigration detention centres to confirm whether individuals are from these respective countries in order to be able to issue emergency travel documents needed to complete returns. Often detainees refuse to leave their rooms for these visits, however, just as often they are tricked into attendance by being told they have legal visits and being led to believe it is their legal representative. Where face-to-face interviews fail phone interviews are conducted. Many detainees have complained to me that they do not even speak on the phone or simply say a few words and this is given as enough to ‘prove’ they are Nigerian. Furthermore, detainees have also begged and pleaded with authorities from their countries of origin to show mercy and to not play into the immigration agenda of the UK Home Office only to have these pleas ignored.
And what does this practice carried out by embassies, private profiting companies and the UK Home Office mean in reality? It means that countless numbers of our friends are humiliated, sent like cargo back to countries they have fled, often being ripped apart from families and connections they have built in the UK.
There are organisations continuing to attempt to challenge charter flights and Unity will continue to campaign against them. If anyone is interested in being involved or has information of individuals forcibly removed via charter flight who still had legal rights to be in the UK please contact us as this information may be able to be compiled as evidence in a case against charter flights.