ZITA HOLBOURNE writes on the men and women forcibly deported from Britain and dumped in Jamaica thousands of miles away from their families and support networks
THIS month, 50 Jamaicans were snatched, detained and deported in the space of a fortnight. It was sudden, unexpected and heartless. It happened here in Britain.
Among the 50 targeted were spouses, parents, grandparents and primary carers of British people. Several had been living in Britain for decades, some had come as small children. They included those going through naturalisation or appeals and those who had not been regularised because of administrative errors.
Many were snatched when signing in with the Home Office, something they were required to do weekly, fortnightly or monthly. They were complying with the requirements of and in regular contact with the Home Office, yet still they were given no advance warning that this was going to happen. They were given no option of booking their own flights to Jamaica on a commercial flight without the stigma and consequences of “deportation” being attached to them. No option of saying goodbye to loved ones and leaving with some dignity was afforded to them.
One man who had his baby with him when he signed in was not even given an opportunity to call a family member to collect the baby. Instead social services were called to take the child away, causing additional trauma to an already shocking and stressful situation for him and his family. One man was beaten up and — only due to a heart condition — was taken to hospital where his injuries were documented.
One woman was in the final stage of being naturalised when her British husband sadly passed away. Yet despite being in a period of grieving and with her family in Britain, she was deemed to be “illegal” and no longer worthy of staying. She was one of the eight fortunate people taken off the flight before take off. Lawyers representing some of these eight people made judicial review applications and one person applied for asylum.
Since 2014, under the racist and divisive Immigration Act, those with criminal records — irrespective of served or spent sentences, rehabilitation, the length of time that has passed or the nature of the crime — can be forcibly removed from the country. However in the case of the Jamaica 50, a broad range of people were grouped together and deported regardless of their background criminal record in a forced mass removal on a flight that could not be tracked. Some of those taken had very minor convictions, but no custodial sentences at all, and were targeted under Operation Nexus. Others were deemed to be administratively “illegal,” despite living in Britain for many years, raising children and grandchildren and despite the fact that for some the administrative error may have been the responsibility of their guardians when they were small children.
A partner of one of the deported men recounted the screams and calls of distress she could hear in the background when her partner called her from the aircraft which will haunt her for ever.
One of those calling out in protest was witnessed by other passengers being beaten by security forces and taken behind a curtain where he was sedated for the duration of the flight. He has no-one in Jamaica and is now destitute.
One person who was seeking asylum was tragically killed within days of arriving in Jamaica for the very reason he was seeking asylum in Britain.
For many people on the flight, Britain is home. It’s where their families are. Some fear for their lives in Jamaica, which they do not see as their home, and worry they will become poverty-stricken or destitue. Without money or a home their life chances are greatly reduced.
It was wrong to group this wide range of people together and put them on an undocumented flight. Late at night, the 50 were taken to a holding centre near Heathrow and told they would depart via Heathrow but their flight actually departed from Stanstead. They were transported in vehicles surrounded by police and security officers, restrained and cuffed and driven right up to the aircraft and boarded one by one. On the aircraft they were also restrained and their heads and bodies bound to seats.
The way they have been treated is inhumane with no consideration for Article 8 of the Human Rights Act and the right to family and private life. Their personal circumstances were disregarded, including the impact on those left behind.
Effectively they were rounded up like cattle and hastily herded onto a plane, leaving them barely any time to obtain advice, support or legal representation — that is for those who could afford it as legal aid is no longer available for such cases.
Those who face the most injustice have the least access to justice in Britain. For those that did have criminal records, we must not forget that the criminal justice system is institutionally racist — black people receive disproportionate and harsher sentencing than their white counterparts. There are more young black men in prison than there are in university because of racism.
The ancestors of those affective faced enslavement, colonial rule and empire. Jamaicans and other Caribbeans were invited to Britain to support the post-war recovery, where they soon found themselves facing signs in public places which read: “No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs.”
When the transatlantic slave trade was outlawed, it was the slave owners who received unprecedented amounts of compensation from the British government — this included the family of David Cameron and created the economic divide which still remains to this day.
Meanwhile there have been no reparations for the enslavement of African people. Jamaican and other Caribbean people have contributed to and influenced British culture, redefining what it is to be British. From signs reading “Keep Britain White” in the 1950s for the “Windrush” generation, to the “Go Home” vans some 60 years later, the attack on migrant communities in Britain is not just targeting new migrants and refugees but established communities who were invited here and have been here for generations.
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has given a commitment that under a Corbyn-led Labour government the Immigration Act will be repealed. But with more such mass deportations expected, we need to act urgently to challenge them. Black Activists Rising Against Cuts (Barac) has asked McDonnell to raise the issue of mass forced removal in Parliament.
It was wrong to deny people the right to conclude naturalisation processes or appeals here in Britain. Appealing to the Home Office from outside the country is a slow and costly process with a very limited chance of success, not to mention that it all has to be carried out away from support networks and loved ones.
The forced removal of people from Britain is a shocking development and it seems that the legacy of Brexit is already upon us. Despite the government’s assurances that those from the Commonwealth would not be targeted, the “pack your bags and go” taunts in the days following the EU referendum result are being realised before our eyes and carried out by the state.
Roots to Return have initiated a crowdfunder for those who wish to initiate an out of country appeal which costs the claimant £140. The deported only have until October 5 to lodge these appeals and time is quickly running out.
Out of country appeals are challenging with a very low success rate and take longer than 18 months for appeals to be heard.
We are using the hashtag #Jamaica50 for the campaign and plan to organise protests outside the Home Office and the Jamaican High Commission — the Jamaican government has entered a memorandum of understanding with the British government and could refuse to accept such private charter flights.
There are reports from some of those forcibly removed that for each person deported the British government paid the Jamaican government £20,000. With the cost of the flight, police and security factored in, this is a substantial amount of money that could be better used to address the deepening poverty faced by people here in Britain, rather than creating more poverty and destitution.
An opinion piece I wrote for the Guardian has been shared 15,000 times, yet there has still been no coverage by the mainstream media — clearly indicating their bias and disregard for the experiences of black communities in the UK.
Black lives matter, especially when they are being herded like cattle and forcibly removed from their homes and families under the threat of violence and at risk to their futures and wellbeing.
Zita Holbourne is the co-founder and national co-chair of Barac UK and elected to the Movement Against Xenophobia national steering group, the PCS union national executive and the TUC race relations committee. She is a poet, visual artist and curator.
You can contribute to the Roots to Return crowdfunder here: mstar.link/roots-return-fund