As a government ghost flight prepared for take-off, activists intervened.
Last night at Stansted Airport people who had lived in the UK, some for decades, were forced onto a plane bound for Nigeria and Ghana. They had been rounded up by immigration officers and torn from their families in an operation code-named “Operation Majestic”.
At 10:30pm, activists from End Deportations, Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants (LGSMigrants) and Plane Stupid ran onto the runway and locked ourselves to the plane using arm tubes and tripods. We stayed there for more than eight hours. This is the first time this kind of direct action has successfully stopped a mass deportation charter flight.
So why did we do this? Here are five main motivations for taking the action last night.
1) Charter flights are secretive and dangerous
Mass deportation flights leave in the middle of the night, with no publicly available information about who is on the flight and when it leaves. Every person who is deported is accompanied by at least two guards. As recently as May 2016, one deportee was forced onto the plane by 8 Tascor guards and bound to his seat. People are restrained, sometimes even by their head, waist and wrists — techniques so extreme, they are not even used in prisons.
2) Charter flights tear families and communities apart
Charter flights deport people who have lived in the UK for decades. Many of these people have family, friends and secure jobs in the UK. Charter flights will send them to places where they may have few or no ties, leading to homelessness and destitution on arrival.
One man, who is soon to be deported, has lived in the UK for 18 years with his wife, brother, nieces and nephews. He was detained by the Home Office after he informed them that he would miss one appointment because his sister had passed away. He has said that if he is taken back to Ghana, he will kill himself.
The Home Office has no respect for the dignity for these families. When they complain of having their lives ripped apart, the Home Office replies with a brutal indifference, telling them simply to conduct their relationships with their family and children via skype.
3) People with ongoing asylum claims are deported on charter flights
Under the Geneva Refugee Convention people have a legal right to claim asylum. It is illegal to deport someone while they are still trying to claim asylum. One person deported on the most recent charter flight to Nigeria (in January 2017) was still waiting for a decision on his asylum claim. He was issued a ticket only 2 days before the charter flight despite the fact that lawfully you should be given 5 days notice.
4) Like Trump’s Muslim ban, Charter Flights are racist
The Home Office schedules charter flights in advance. Immigration officers are under pressure to find enough people to fill those seats and work with the police to target particular ethnic groups, creating fear and isolation, disrupting and ‘othering’ communities.
5) We must resist racism in all its forms
Racism and xenophobia are on the rise, spurred along by government behaviour and rhetoric. Creating a “hostile environment” for migrants is an explicit policy objective. Brexit has unleashed a surge of racist violence. We need to combat “hate crime” and state racism, both at once. We must resist mass deportations.
Nadia Graham is pseudonym. This piece was written by the End Deportations collective.