An expulsion charter flight to Jamaica was carried out in the early morning in the house despite strong counter-reactions from members of parliament, human rights activists and celebrities.
The Home Office has confirmed that 13 people were on board the chartered plane, which took off around 2 a.m., 37 fewer than originally planned, after last-minute legal action was taken. The model Naomi Campbell, the actress Thandie Newton, the writer Bernardine Evaristo and the historian David Olusoga were among a number of prominent black figures who had called on the airlines not to carry out the mass deportation flight.
In an open letter addressed to the bosses of several airlines, including Hi Fly, Titan Airways and TUI UK and Ireland, more than 90 high-ranking personalities, activists and activists called on the companies not to carry out the planned flight on December 2. They also called for a break in the conduct of future deportation flights to Commonwealth countries.
Several NGOs, dozens of lawyers and barristers, including 11 QCs, also signed a letter in which they declared that the deportation flight was illegal, unfair and racist. Another letter to the British Home Secretary, Priti Patel, was signed by more than 60 MPs and like-minded people, demanding that the flight be cancelled.
Charter flights to Jamaica have been particularly controversial because of the Windrush scandal, in which people were wrongfully arrested and deported, many of whom had entered the United Kingdom between 1948 and 1973 from Caribbean countries, after Britain, which faced a labor shortage in the post-war period, had asked for them to be cancelled. Those who arrived automatically became British subjects, free to live and work permanently in the United Kingdom.
Among the many who were falsely deported by the Home Office after the government passed a law in 2012 to enforce immigration controls were those British-born citizens who had come to the country before 1973.
Windrush lawyer Jacqueline McKenzie said: “Deportation is at the forefront of the ‘hostile environment’. It requires legislative reform and should play a role in the work the Home Office has to do after reviewing the lessons learned by Windrush”.
A Department of the Interior spokesman confirmed to Washington Newsday that 13 people were taken on the charter flight, saying “We make no apology for trying to remove dangerous foreign criminals to protect the public. Every week we take foreign criminals from the UK to other countries that have no right to be here, this flight is no different. The people who are detained for this flight include convicted murderers and rapists”.
Bella Sankey, the director of Deportation Action, who intervened in an urgent legal challenge filed by two children with one parent on the flight to prevent the flight, said: “This cowboy operation was stopped by judges who intervened to defend those whose lives are in danger in Jamaica. The tragedy of this story, however, is the many devastated children who have had a loving parent violently torn from their lives without counsel or a hearing. This is child abuse pure and simple, and it will not last”.
The father of the children who brought the case was among those who were removed after he was given a separate order. Detention Action claims that if all 50 people on the Home Office charter plane had been deported as planned, up to 150 British children would have been separated from one parent because of the flight.
At least one person who arrived in Britain at the age of 13 and at least one person with immediate Windrush relatives remained on board the plane, the charity said. In one case, a man on the flight was deported on a conviction for intent to supply Class A drugs, despite being an alleged victim of criminal exploitation and personal hygiene, the charity said. His three young children and his other family remain in the United Kingdom.
Deportation Action said that some of those removed from flight have now been included in the government’s program to identify and protect victims of trafficking and modern slavery. The legal challenge over the impact of deportations on children continues, the charity said.
Home Secretary Chris Philp denied any connection with Windrush, saying the deportees had been convicted of crimes such as “sexual assault on children, murder, rape, drug trafficking and violent crimes” and he said the deportations were justified.
“These are serious crimes that have a real and lasting impact on the victims and the wider community,” he said. The deportation flight is about “crime, not nationality,” he said, adding that it “has nothing to do with the terrible injustice that the Windrush generation faces.
Philp twittered before the escape: “The majority of deportations of foreign criminals are to European countries. Less than 1% go to Jamaica. None of these dangerous criminals leaving tomorrow are fit for Windrush. None of them were born in Great Britain.
The prisoners were taken from three Home Office detention centres – Pennine House in Manchester, Colnbrook near Heathrow Airport and Brook House near Gatwick Airport – and put on the flight, reports the Guardian. Those who were removed from the plane were dropped at the last minute on their individual cases after successful appeals.