Shine A Light

UK activists prevent deportation of Afghan migrants

Activists "put their bodies on the line" to delay a deportation flight to 'unsafe' Afghanistan.

Michael Segalov
13 March 2015

Brook House Immigration Removal Centre sits on the perimeter of Gatwick Airport, and is run by G4S, who time and again have proven themselves capable of ensuring the safety and wellbeing of detainees in centres and deportations. Oh, wait.

When I first visited the centre, I noticed a large mural on a wall above me, which read ‘One Big Happy Family.’ I read this as I was searched and had all my belongings placed into a locker before being taken through countless security doors into a quasi-prison, where those detained inside can be held indefinitely having committed no offence.

Brook House, which holds up to 426 men, is notoriously unpleasant.  High Court judges have ruled G4S employees there have ‘behaved disgracefully’ in the past. The centre has seen the highest level of serious self-harm across any UK immigration removal centre. In recent months reports of a detainee cutting his throat, another setting fire to his bedroom and a further falling from a second floor balcony and suffering serious head injuries have all come to light.

These detention centres are some of the most unpleasant places in the country, and yet many inside would rather remain inside, fighting for the right to remain in the UK, than be deported to countries where their safety is under even more threat.  

On Tuesday evening (10 March) a removal was taking place, with around 52 detainees being transferred to Gatwick airport bound for Afghanistan 

A group called ‘No Borders’ often organises blockades and actions around deportations, including one this Tuesday, so I caught up with an activist from No Borders to find out what happened and why.

What do No Borders do, and why?

We exist because the deportation system in the UK is inhumane and brutal. The Home Office regularly deport people with on-going court cases and appeals, who often have representatives in court at the time of deportation. And yet they continue the process regardless. People are often taken off flights minutes before departure, which shows just how tight the timing can be. Yet people are still deported, but had their solicitors had an extra hour or day, it’s impossible to know how many more people could have been allowed to remain in the UK. We do all that we can to ensure that removals are delayed and halted, to ensure people have their cases heard.

Is this what was happening on Tuesday?

With the deportations on Tuesday around fifty people were set to be put on flights to Afghanistan, with others set for Albania and Pakistan.

The coach arrived at Brook House at about 2:30pm, arriving with detainees already on it, presumably from the other detention centre in Gatwick. As people held in Brook House were put on, the detainees on board were sat and cuffed on the coach, for three and a half hours, until coach set off around 1800. Throughout this time people were also being taken off the coach, as court cases were decided in favour of the detainees. We could see that more time was needed to ensure all the cases were heard, but the coach began to leave the compound.

Is that when protestors took action?

Yeah, some protestors ran out into the middle of the road, stopping the police escort and blocking the path of the coach. They held a banner, which rightly asserted that ‘This Deportation is Illegal’.

One protestor ran up to the coach and super-glued her hand to the windscreen wiper blade. The police arrested her at around 6pm, but this delayed the coach moving by at least an hour. After that time the blade was removed, the protestor was arrested and the coach drove to the terminal. I’m pretty sure that it’s illegal for the coach to drive without the wiper.  Another protestor was arrested for lying down in the road. Both were arrested for obstructing the highway, and have now been released on bail.

Brook House IRC induction Area (HMIP).jpg

Brook House IRC induction area (HMIP)

The coach made it to the terminal, does that mean the action was unsuccessful?

No. The last four people to be taken off the flight as cases were decided in court were taken off at 10:30pm, which was the original scheduled departure time of the flight. If the flight had been able to take off as planned, without the blockade, those people would be back in Afghanistan now, when they are entitled to be here, and the courts found this to be the case.

Twenty people were taken off the flight, but unfortunately another 32 were deported, but a court case was going on, into after hours session. People were being taken off the coach all the time. If we had been able to delay the flight for longer, other people may have been allowed to stay too.

These activists put their bodies on the line, would these people have had their deportation halted had they not?

No, and that’s why they did it. The argument is that it was a successful attempt to stop a miscarriage of justice. These people had the right to stay in the UK, and the Home Office should have let their cases be heard before deportation. These protestors allowed justice to prevail, and yet were held in custody for close to 24 hours.

What’s the situation in Afghanistan at the moment in terms of deportation?

The Afghan Minister for Refugees and Repatriation, made a plea to all countries to halt deportations to the country, because 80 per cent of the provinces in the country have been deemed unsafe.

The Afghan Government has said that it’s likely that returning refugees would be turned away if they arrived at the airport, but they just don’t have the infrastructure to fulfil this, so who knows what would happen to them. 

What happens next?

This protest is not happening in isolation. Migrants are on hunger strike in detention centres across the country, with protesters also gathering outside Harmondsworth IRC in solidarity with those facing removal. Recent news reports by Channel 4 have also highlighted appalling treatment of migrants within the UK’s detention estate. The whole system needs dismantling.

See more -  @PleaseSaveThem #justiceforafghans

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