Ten days ago, I watched in despair as almost 20 women
were forcibly taken to Stansted airport to be removed from the UK aboard a bus
branded ‘Just Go!’. I am unable to get the image out of my mind.
They were driven from Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre near Bedford to join a mass deportation of 55 Nigerians.
It was disturbing that the UK Border Agency (UKBA) used a coach plastered in ‘Just go!’ stickers when deporting people.
I knew some on the women on the flight. One had lived in the UK for over 20 years. Now most will be on the street in Lagos with nowhere to go, few belongings and their lives in tatters.
The bus company ‘JustGo’ claims to offer “interesting and rewarding excursions” to a range of locations in the UK and Europe. One-way travel to Nigeria is not advertised.
Mass deportations to Nigeria occur bi-monthly. The UKBA refers to these collective expulsions as ‘Operation Majestic’. Planes typically leave London late at night with two private guards flanking each detainee.
While removal decisions are made by the Government and courts, the logistics of forcibly deporting people are handled by an army of private companies. I recorded the involvement of at least seven other private contractors during the deportation. The state’s monopoly on violence has been farmed out to gangs of eager mercenaries.
The coach from Yarl’s Wood was tailed by three ‘Reliance’ prison vans. On arrival at Stansted, the deportation convoy entered the ‘Inflite Jet Centre’, an exclusive terminal for private aircraft. The women were kept waiting on the coach for several hours inside a fenced compound while corporate executives arrived in luxury limousines and sped through a nearby entrance to board VIP flights. Four more coaches were visible inside the compound, two from ‘WH Tours’, one from ‘Woodcock Coaches’ and the one from ‘Just Go!’
Detention centres are run by private contractors, such as Serco, G4S and GEO. The only evidence of state involvement in the expulsion was a single Ford Focus with a small ‘UKBA’ sticker on the door.
After watching the reality of a mass deportation, it's even harder to swallow the right-wing claim that ‘migrants take our jobs’. What I saw was hundreds of burly white men being employed to kick out half as many black people. They expelled them from a country of relative economic prosperity to one riddled with severe poverty. Several large companies oversaw the process. Many of them are headquartered in the UK. I saw the deportation industry at work – it’s a major, profitable business venture.
Earlier that day, angry protests had erupted outside the Nigerian High Commission as activists denounced Nigerian government complicity in forced removals of immigration prisoners.
The demonstration had been called for by some of the women detained at Yarl’s Wood. They had hoped that an eleventh hour protest would shame diplomatic staff into withdrawing their consent for the deportation. Nigerian officials are understood to assist British authorities with mass deportations by issuing travel documents in return for cash payments and other sweeteners.
I spoke to a Nigerian bystander outside the High Commission - she had first-hand experience of a similar mass deportation from Ireland to Nigeria. She described the Nigerian government as “useless,” adding that they: “Allow it to happen.”
Though no resistance was reported inside Yarl’s Wood on this occasion, one of the asylum-seekers facing deportation said: “Everyone is scared…it’s just too much.” Yarl’s Wood managers allegedly warned every detainee set to be removed that resistance would be “dealt with harshly”.
Mass deportation flights have become a preferred way of removing migrants to poorer and more dangerous areas en masse. They are intended to save money and keep deportations outside the public gaze. The emphasis of mass deportations is on filling the flight and getting rid of as many, as quickly as possible.
Five women were given last-minute reprieves when they were removed from the airport bound coaches at Yarl’s Wood.
One detainee says she believes the treatment of people like her has deteriorated since David Cameron’s call at the Conservative party conference for members of the public to denounce those suspected of being in the UK illegally to the authorities. “They don’t want us here – they are being racist,” she said.
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