A secret Home Office flight tomorrow (Wednesday 7 September) will forcibly remove fathers 4,500 miles away from their children in the UK.
An elderly man with British children and grandchildren is among passengers due to be forcibly flown to Jamaica tomorrow. Other passengers on the secret Home Office flight include a father of three who has lived in the UK since he was four years old.
The Home Office regularly books secret charter flights to deport people to countries including Nigeria and Pakistan, but this is the first charter flight to Jamaica since 2014. Many of those being deported have spent their formative years in the UK and have British families.
In most cases people are unable properly to challenge their deportation because they cannot afford to pay for legal advice. People are notified that they will be on these planes with just days to try and contest the decision.
More than 50 people booked onto Wednesday’s charter flight to Jamaica have spoken to volunteers at The Unity Centre in Glasgow, and almost everyone said they had come to the UK as a child.
James pays for crime again and again
James was just four years old when he arrived in the UK. Now he is 30 and father to three British children. In 2012 he was convicted of money laundering and served two years in prison. Despite having served his sentence, he says it feels like he’s paying for his crime over and over. Since the end of his sentence, he has been detained and released three times and lives in constant uncertainty. He missed the birth of his youngest daughter and missed another daughter’s birthday.
James grew up without a father and fears that his children will grow up without a father too. “It’s like a cycle,” he said. “Just another generation with no fathers to help them grow. How can they not understand that will create more crime?”
Though James’s partner and his children are British, the Home Office can still deny them their Article 8 rights to a family life by deporting him from the UK. The Home Office advises people in this situation to conduct their family relationships “…by telephone, email or other modern methods of long-distance communication such as Skype”.
Gerry leaves a partner, children, grandchild
Gerry is booked on the flight and his family are British. He has a partner, three children and one grandchild, as well as extended family.
Home Office policy is to detain and then deport foreign nationals given a sentence of 12 months or more, regardless of how long they have lived in the UK. Gerry’s most recent conviction was for dealing drugs 12 years ago in 2004.
Gerry is in his fifties. In July this year he attempted suicide. Weeks after he left hospital, the Home Office detained him. In order to justify their attempt to forcibly remove him, the Home Office cite a caution for possession of cannabis, three years ago.
Does good behaviour count? William is booked on Wednesday’s flight. He left prison with 13 certificates of achievement and responded well to 2 years and 9 months of probation following his release.
William’s wife is British and they have been married for 12 years. He is his wife’s carer. No matter, he is due to fly tomorrow.
Baby in a pushchair
Many people booked for deportation on Wednesday are victims of ‘Operation Nexus’. This joint initiative between the Home Office and the Metropolitan Police involves the arbitrary deportation of foreign nationals, including people without criminal convictions. The police and Home Office officials share speculative evidence to build a case for deportation. This includes people who may have been accused of a crime and found not guilty.
Most people we spoke to said they were arrested suddenly and without warning, usually when signing in with the Home Office. Many people had attended their Home Office reporting centre, to sign as required. When they arrived, they were asked to stay for a quick meeting and a few hours later they were transferred to immigration detention. James had gone with a friend to sign, who was also reporting. They were both detained but sent to different detention centres. James’s friend had brought his baby in a pushchair to the reporting centre.
“The Home Office called social services while they did his interview, called them to pick up the baby then detained the daddy,” James said.
People in this situation feel tricked and cannot understand why their compliance is used against them. Many people used the word 'kidnap' to describe their detention. “I honestly feel like I’ve been kidnapped,” said Matthew, who was picked up while reporting to the Home Office. “Kidnapped from my family. I been signing on for nine years, even when I’m sick I go there. And now they say I'll abscond.”
The only person that Matthew knows to have absconded over the years is his lawyer. His lawyer disappeared with his case documents and his money, preventing him from regularising his status.
It is an all too common story. Since Legal Aid has been cut for most immigration matters, people are left with few options and vulnerable to unscrupulous lawyers. James said that he had saved up money to go to university, but ended up using it to pay lawyers to fight his case: “They tell you it’s going to cost £4,000 to cancel the ticket. You panic. You pay.” People are often penniless by the time they are forcibly removed from the UK.
Once people are detained in immigration removal centres, access to legal advice is even harder. In England you can only get a legal aid lawyer from the ‘legal aid surgery’ – a system in which contracted firms operate a rota. They have 10 slots for each surgery, which means they can see only a fraction of those detained when most are in need of urgent legal advice.
The cuts to legal aid in immigration cases were made as part of the government’s efforts to save money. However, the government spends a great deal on charter flights. Corporate Watch discovered that the cost of deporting people on charter flights has risen, even as the number of people being deported falls. In 2011/2012 the average cost of a charter flight was £218,617. James asks: “Why are the government cutting benefits, saying they got no money, when they find the money for this?”
No way out
The people booked on Wednesday’s flight cannot appeal their deportation while they are in this country. The British government operates a “deport first, appeal later” policy. If someone wants to appeal on human rights grounds, they have to do so from the country they are deported to. An exception is made for people facing “serious irreversible harm” in their country of origin. But most people fearing serious irreversible harm claim asylum. And doing so in the run up to deportation is usually considered an attempt to “frustrate” removal, which the Home Office can use as a reason to remove appeal rights, meaning the asylum claim must be dealt with out of country.
The legality of the “deport first, appeal later” policy is being challenged in the Supreme Court with a hearing date set for year. Meanwhile, people are swept up, detained and deported on secret charter flights escorted by private security guards.
Many know the story of Jimmy Mubenga, a healthy 46 year old, the father of five children, who died while being “restrained” by three G4S security guards on a British Airways plane bound for Angola in October 2010. The truth emerged only because paying passengers witnessed what happened to Jimmy Mubenga and spoke out about it.
On the Home Office’s secret charter flights there are no independent witnesses aboard.
There will be demonstration at the Jamaican embassy the today — Tuesday 6 September 4pm.
All names have been changed. Extracts from Home Office Refusal letters supplied by The Unity Centre.