Human Rights Organisation Says Home Office Risks Losing Public Backing Over "Cruel" Deportation Flights
A Home Office deportation flight to Jamaica this week was a “watershed” moment for the UK’s approach to removing foreign-born criminals, according to human rights campaigners who say the public got to see the cruelty and chaos of this strategy played out in real time.
A charter flight to the Caribbean island set off on the early hours of Wednesday morning with just seven people on board after a series of legal challenges removed the majority of those due to fly.
There had been concern some were children when they came to the UK and one man with reported links to the Windrush generation, which the Home Office has dismissed.
They said none were British citizens, and the legal cases stopped 43 people being deported who had been sentenced for murder, attempted murder, rape, sexual offences, drugs and firearms offences. "Last minute barriers” brought by the legal firms were only made 24 hours prior deportation, the Home Office said.
Two people are reported to have attempted suicide before the plane set off and have remained in the UK for hospital treatment. Jamaica had also had concerns about the Covid risk of the flight.
Bella Sankey, director of Detention Action, said she believed this week's flight had exposed the chaos surrounding this system of deportation, and would lead to a shift-change in public opinion on how to deal with foreign-born criminals who have long-standing ties to the UK and while so many legal questions hang over their immigration status.
“The chaos, cruelty and incompetence of this charter flight is a watershed moment," Sankey told PoliticsHome.
"Mass expulsions are inhumane and the more stories of injustice that surface the more the public will grow uncomfortable with this blunt approach by the Home Office.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “They have violated our laws and values and have left their victims living with the scars of the crimes that took place against them. The British people should be in no doubt of my determination to remove these criminals to protect both the victims of their crimes and the public.”
Sankey said Detention Action often only finds out about the deportation flights when people they work with get removal direction notices for the same day.
One man who was due to be deported, but was held back from the plane, is Damion Thompson, 43. He was jailed for possession of a controlled class A drug and possession of criminal property in 2011 and served 14 months in prison. His wife Linda, who is a nurse, described him as a 'reformed man' with no concerns from his probation officers.
Sanjay McLean, 41, is also challenging his removal notice. He moved to Britain aged 12 in 1993 to join his father, Alpheus Thompson, who is a British citizen and came to the country as part of the Windrush generation, according to The Independent.
His lawyers have said that under the rules of Home Office’s Windrush scheme, Mr McLean is eligible for British citizenship.
Sankey said many of those on the flight committed their crimes many years ago and have gone through rehabilitation, as well as men whose removal would leave families without a father.
Others who have been in Britain for 30 years, have little knowledge or memory of Jamaica, having been brought here as children, and had not attempted to regularise their immigration status once in the UK because they did not know they needed to.
Sankey said: "The Home Office's tactic of branding everybody on these flights a threat to public safety is as tired as it is inaccurate. The reality is that most people have committed non-violent or one-off offences and lived in the UK for most of their lives.
“Credit to the Jamaican Government for insisting that those brought to the UK as children must not be deported – this marks a watershed moment and a first step towards fundamental reform".
She said she hoped other countries would implement a rule of not taking people who had come to the UK before they were 12 years old.
The Home Office said their New Plan for Immigration will fix a “broken system" and stop the “abuse we are seeing by expediting the removal of those who have no right to be here”.
Since April 2020, the department has used 75 charter flights to deport foreign national offenders and other immigration offenders to countries across Europe and around the rest of the world.
They said Jamaica represented one percent of our overall enforced returns in 2020.
Sankey believes the confusion and various legal arguments that are made to try and stop the deportation flights to Jamaica and other Caribbean islands is due to the complex rules around people who were once able to come to the UK from former colonies and the greater likelihood of people having clear family ties in the UK.
She Tweeted this week that this flight to Jamaica had exposed the charter flights strategy as they "sweep everyone up and create a political spectacle that dehumanises those involved and their children & loved ones". ·
"We have raised a lot of awareness of these injustices in the past few years, the momentum is with us and the wheels are coming off Priti Patel's operation. She has overreached," she said.
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