At the start of last week, BARAC UK started to hear from families in distress because their loved ones had been detained and told they would shortly be deported.
We have now learned that the Home Office plans to deport up to 50 Black British people to Jamaica on 2 December.
Mass deportations on chartered flights have been happening for years. They are the product of racist immigration laws and policies which target Black and brown people, and those not born in the UK. The government ignores the fact that many came here as small children – that this small island is the only home they know. It’s where their families are, where they went to school, raised their children and grandchildren and worked and paid taxes. It’s where they have built their lives.
During the height of the so-called Windrush Scandal, we called for these deportations to stop and they were halted for a time. But now Priti Patel has given the green light to another mass deportation flight, just before Christmas. We must prevent it.
In practice, the deportation process itself is brutal. Imagine: you’re shaken awake in the middle of the night in your holding cell. Guards tell you there’s a change of plan, you’re being taken for deportation today. Your mobile phone is snatched out of your hands; you’re not allowed to make that precious last call to your loved ones to say “Goodbye” or “I love you”. You cannot reach your legal representatives.
You’re cuffed to an usher and forced onto a minibus, to be driven to an airfield hundreds of miles away. In one final act of cruelty, when you’ve been bundled onto a plane, you’re shackled, from the waist down and chained to two security guards. This is how the UK government rips people from the only lives they’ve ever known – as dehumanised prisoners.
Some of those targeted for deportation have been criminalised by virtue of their immigration status, others are going through appeals and those who have been sentenced criminally now receive a triple punishment of prison, detention, and deportation.
“One man waited four days for guards to fax his paperwork to his lawyer. Those days are the difference between a last minute reprieve and being deposited in a country you left when you were two years old”
Many will only have a single historic offence on their records. Some are the victims of county lines networks, and others sentenced under now defunct joint enterprise law. Under Operation Nexus young black people who have been the victims of racial profiling are deported without ever being charged or going through the criminal justice system at all.
BARAC UK has received reports that the computer room at Colnbrook detention centre is closed as a Covid-19 measure. This is where people access the internet, emails, fax machine, phones, photocopier and liaise with legal representatives. Being denied access to this space can constitute being denied access to justice and is unlawful.
Detainees rely on detention centre staff who are not willing to help them with any urgency. One man waited four days for guards to fax his paperwork to his lawyer. Those days are the difference between a last minute reprieve and being deposited in a country you left when you were two years old.
Deportations are inhumane and discriminatory at any time, but in the middle of a pandemic and during a lockdown, they are a breathtakingly unfeeling act.
Taking people to detention centres is putting them and others at risk. Cuffing people to guards and ushers during lengthy journeys to airports, and then for the duration of a long haul flight, is not compliant with COVID-19 requirements and further threatens contraction of the virus.
Black people are up to four times more likely to contract and die of COVID-19. They are already in a high-risk group and those targeted could be more vulnerable for other reasons, like pre-existing health conditions. There is no sense that any of these factors have been considered by Priti Patel and her team.
The looming thread of Covid-19 has also meant no visiting has been allowed at detention centres, so families have not even had the chance to say goodbye. Most of those targeted for this Christmas deportation have young families and children.
“It has been a traumatic year for Black people. Our energy has been truly spent. Now, families are facing being torn apart, just before Christmas – and they cannot even say goodbye”
BARAC UK has spoken to the partner of one of the men booked on the flight. She waited outside the Home Office reporting centre with one of their children while her partner signed in. He never came out again. Now she is trying to explain to her distressed child why it is that Daddy didn’t come home with them.
Research published last week by BIDUK demonstrates what we already know about the impact on children of separation because of deportation: that it has deep and lasting psychological impacts. I know first-hand from speaking with parents over the past few years this is the case. Parents speak of their children’s school work being impacted, sudden bedwetting which their child didn’t do before. Crying, confusion and depression are also things reported to me. Is this really the gift Priti Patel wishes to give young Black children for Christmas?
It has been a traumatic year for Black people. Covid-19 has affected our families, our communities, our jobs, our education, our grieving processes and has increased caring responsibilities. We have been fighting for so long and stepped up efforts with renewed vigour after the death of George Floyd and the subsequent Black Lives Matter movement. Our energy has been truly spent. Now, families are facing being torn apart, just before Christmas – and they cannot even say goodbye.
The Windrush Lessons Learned recommendations published in the first lockdown have not been implemented. The report found the Home Office to be institutionally ignorant of racism, with recommendations including race equality training and teaching the history of colonialism and Black people in Britain. And today another damning report was released, this time from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, that concluded the hostile environment broke equality law. Why is the Home Office continuing to ruin the lives of Black Brits via deportations without learning any lessons – or consequences?
We know you are tired. We are tired too. But now we need your help. Despite all the odds, we have been beating the Home Office’s cruel immigration policies this year. We can do it again, now. But we only have a few days to take action.
Your help could be the difference between life and death for some of those being deported and mean that children have their dad or mum with them on Christmas Day.
Here are some things that you can do. They will only take a few minutes but will help to keep the pressure up to stop these deportations.
- Sign our petition to stop the deportations here
- Tweet @UKHomeOffice and call on them to cancel the flight. Use the hashtag #Jamaica50
- Follow @baracuk on Twitter. RT our tweets and share the news reports there – look out for a Twitter storm on Saturday 28 December
- Write to your MP calling on them to write to the Home Secretary urgently – you can use gal-dem’s email template found here (please send any responses you receive to [email protected]).
- If you or someone you know is impacted or at risk, urge them to get legal advice straight away – we can recommend lawyers if needed.
Zita Holbourne is the co-founder and national chair of BARAC UK and a human rights campaigner