A deportation charter flight to Jamaica was made in the early house of the morning despite fierce backlash from MPs, human rights activists, and celebrities.
The Home Office has confirmed that 13 people were on board its chartered plane that took off at around 2 am, 37 fewer than originally planned following legal challenges brought at the eleventh hour. Model Naomi Campbell, actress Thandie Newton, author Bernardine Evaristo, and historian David Olusoga were among a host of prominent Black figures who had called on airlines not to operate the mass deportation flight.
In an open letter, addressed to the bosses of multiple airlines including Hi Fly, Titan Airways and TUI U.K. and Ireland, more than 90 high-profile figures, campaigners and activists urged the companies to decline to operate the planned December 2 flight. They also called for a pause on the operation of future deportation flights to Commonwealth countries.
Several NGOs, dozens of solicitors and barristers including 11 QCs, also signed a letter saying the deportation flight was unlawful, unjust and racist. A further letter to Britain’s Home Secretary Priti Patel was signed by more than 60 MPs and peers, calling for the flight to be canceled.
Charter flights to Jamaica are particularly controversial because of the Windrush scandal in which people were wrongly detained and deported, many of who had arrived in the U.K. from Caribbean countries between 1948 and 1973 after a request from Britain which faced a post-war labor shortage. Those arriving automatically became British subjects free to permanently live and work in the U.K.
Many of those who were wrongly deported by the Home Office following the government’s “Hostile Environment” legislation in 2012 to enforce immigration controls included these British-born subjects who had arrived in the country before 1973.
Windrush lawyer Jacqueline McKenzie said: “Deportation is at the pinnacle of the hostile environment. It requires legislative reform and should feature in the work that the Home Office has to do following the Windrush Lessons Learned review.”
A Home Office spokesperson confirmed to Newsweek that 13 people were removed on the charter flight and said: “We make no apology for seeking to remove dangerous foreign criminals to keep the public safe. Each week we remove foreign criminals from the U.K. to different countries who have no right to be here, this flight is no different. The people being detained for this flight include convicted murderers and rapists.”
Bella Sankey, director of Deportation Action, which intervened in an urgent legal challenge brought by two children with a parent on the flight to prevent it from flying, said: “This cowboy operation was stopped in its tracks by judges intervening to defend those whose lives are at risk in Jamaica. But the tragedy of this tale is the many devastated children who have had a loving parent forcibly ripped from their lives without any consultation or being able to make their voice heard. This is child cruelty plain and simple and it will not stand.”
The father of the children who brought the case was among those removed after he had a separate injunction granted. Detention Action claims that if all 50 of those on the Home Office charter plane had been deported as planned, up to 150 British children would have been separated from a parent due to the flight.
At least one person who arrived in the U.K. 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 was deported on the flight for a conviction for intent to supply class A drugs, despite being a suspected victim of criminal exploitation and grooming, the charity said. His three young children, as well as his wider family, remain in the U.K.
Deportation Action said that some of those removed from the flight have now been referred into the government’s scheme for identifying and protecting victims of human trafficking and modern slavery. The legal challenge concerning the impact of deportations on children continues, the charity said.
Home Office minister Chris Philp denied any link to Windrush and said that those being deported had been convicted of crimes including “sexual assault against children, murder, rape, drug dealing, and violent crime” and he said that the deportations were justified.
“These are serious offenses which have a real and lasting impact on the victims and the wider community,” he said. The deportation flight was about “criminality, not nationality” he said, adding that it had “nothing to do with the terrible wrongs faced by the Windrush generation”.
Philp tweeted ahead of the flight: “The majority of deportations of Foreign National Offenders are to European countries. Less than 1% are to Jamaica. None of those dangerous offenders going tomorrow are Windrush eligible. None were born in the U.K.”
Detainees were taken from three Home Office detention centers – Pennine House in Manchester, Colnbrook, near Heathrow Airport, and Brook House near Gatwick Airport to be put on the flight, the Guardian reports. Those removed from the plane were taken off following successful last-minute legal appeals relating to their individual cases.
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