Last year 12,666 people were forcibly deported from the UK - an average of nearly 35 people every day, often on commercial flights filled with holidaymakers, families and business travellers.
But unlike the other passengers, they arrive accompanied by border police. They’re often restrained, in preparation for being sent back to their country of origin after failed asylum claims, criminal activity, or breaching immigration rules.
Although most of these deportations happen without incident, some have gone terribly wrong. The process was reformed after the death of Jimmy Mubenga during one such deportation in 2010.
However, on Saturday March 24th HuffPost UK witnessed an attempted deportation that left a man screaming in pain, with guards telling him to “shut the fuck up” and warning him that the “gloves are off”. Passengers aboard the Turkish Airlines flight expressed shock at his treatment. The guards told air stewards to prevent any recording of the events, and they in turn instructed passengers to stop recording the incident.
An audio recorded by HuffPost UK reveals the grim reality of that attempted forced deportation. It is a 20-minute recording of the incident, between a man, who was referred to as Abdul, and at least five border police officers.
The officers force him onto the plane, but he is shouting so much they decide to remove him. He continues to shout in distress, at which point one officer tells him: “Right, shut the fuck up. We’re getting off, we’re getting off now. Listen to me, we can’t get off this plane unless you calm down... Shut the fuck up for once and listen to me for once.”
Families and young children were witness to the incident, and when asked about the event once the flight had landed, some expressed shock at what they had been forced to witness.
One passenger, who asked to remain anonymous, said upon landing: “They used a lot of force. It was disturbing and also many of the people around us had children who were shocked at all the yelling.
“It shouldn’t be that way. There should be a better process because - as far as we know - he’s not a thief, it’s not a criminal issue. And even if it is criminal, it shouldn’t be done that way, everybody has rights.”
Sheroy Zaq, an immigration specialist at the legal firm Duncan Lewis, told HuffPost UK the recording represents “yet another example of the dehumanisation of foreign suffering at the hands of the Home Secretary.
“There is no attempt to preserve the dignity of those being removed by force, nor is there any consideration of the impact that such treatment has upon the victim or, indeed, those who are forced to witness such desperately distressing incidents.”
Deportations were thrust into the spotlight in 2010 when 46-year-old Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained by three private security guards working for G4S.
Terrence Hughes, Colin Kaler, and Stuart Tribelnig, were accused of manslaughter by forcing Mubenga’s head down and restricting his breathing.
All three were found not guilty.
“The tragic death of Jimmy Mubenga in similar circumstances, almost a decade ago, led to the Home Office promising a ‘bespoke training package’ for those carrying out aircraft removals, yet we continue to see vulnerable individuals being physically and verbally abused when they are being removed from the United Kingdom,” Zaq warned.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Detention and removal are essential parts of effective immigration controls. It is vital these are carried out with dignity and respect.
“We aim to safely remove people in a way that both minimises the impact on the airlines and their passengers and is fair to the taxpayer.
“While it is regrettable that some people are, or become, disruptive on removal we do our utmost through a risk assessment process to try and minimise any potential impact on the rest of the passengers.”
This is how events unfolded on the flight:
Numerous Border Force officials were present but passengers were given no warning of what was about to happen. The first they knew of it was shouting and screaming that could be heard as the man, Abdul, was dragged up the stairs to the plane.
Abdul: No man, no man, please. You’re breaking my hand, you’re breaking my hand. You broke my hand man, you broke my hand. Stop it man, I don’t wanna go, I gotta daughter in this country. I need to go to hospital next week, please stop it man. Please, this is not human rights man.
Abdul was forcibly restrained and repeatedly screamed in pain, saying his hand had been broken. A paramedic was present but he spent most of the time reassuring other passengers that everything was OK.
Abdul: Don’t do this to me man. You’re breaking my hand man, why you breaking my hand? Why are you treating me like this man? Please no, no. Stop it man, stop this man, hey stop this. Stop this please. Stop twisting my hand man. Stop it please.
Immigration official: You’re too dangerous, I can’t let you off. I can’t let you of the flight.
Abdul: Please no, please no, please no, no man, no man I got a daughter in this country man.
After a short period, the officials realised Abdul was not going to calm down and they began to discuss removing him from the plane, which by this point was already delayed.
Abdul: No. No. No.
Immigration official: Come on man, come on.
Abdul: No. No. No.
Immigration official: Right, shut the fuck up. We’re getting off, we’re getting off now. Listen to me, we can’t get off this plane unless you calm down.
Abdul: I’m gonna kill myself.
Immigration official: Shut the fuck up for once and listen to me for once.
Abdul: Don’t treat me like this.
Immigration official: Listen, I’m having a battle in there to get you off. I’m saying to my guys, we can’t get you off when you’re shouting and you keep shouting. You’re delaying this plane. All you had to do was shut up, listen to what I was saying and you’d be off sitting in the van laughing your head off, again. So what you gonna do? What you gonna do fella?
Abdul: I’m gonna walk out.
Immigration official: The ball is in your court. The gloves are off now.
Immigration officer: You’re thrashing around, that’s why that’s hurting. You just tried head-butting one of our colleagues. We’ve done nothing but help today and you’ve done nothing but ignore us and complain [inaudible] you might actually get the help that you need. But the whole time that you just argue, argue, argue, you’re not going to get the help that you need.
After a period of around 20 minutes, Abdul was removed from the plane. It’s not known what the reasons for Abdul’s deportation were, or what has happened to him since.