The resignation of Amber Rudd was the least those affected by the Windrush scandal could have expected. But though a minister being forced from the cabinet is big news, let’s be clear that Rudd went because of incompetence, and has left in place the hostile environment which led us to the situation we now face. We must not for a moment believe that the handing over of the keys to Marsham Street to Sajid Javid will automatically usher in a new era of fair migration policy.
So far, this debate has focussed on the lives torn apart, the racism and casual cruelty of the government’s ‘hostile environment’ policy. We now know that the way that the government treated the Windrush generation wasn’t a mistake, but a systemic expression of its ‘hostile environment’. And we also know that the vast majority of MPs failed to oppose the policy changes in 2014 that led to this moment. But what we haven’t seen much coverage of so far are some of the other cruel tenets of a hostile immigration system, and the many lives being torn apart in secret.
That is why we must now also talk about the brutal, secretive and legally questionable practice of charter flight deportations. These flights are the blunt tool that help the government meet deportation targets - and they are utterly dehumanising. People find themselves on these flight after being profiled and rounded up. The Border Force can arrive at any time, but they often turn up in dawn raids on people’s homes. They then take them to remote detention centres and have them loaded onto specially chartered planes in the middle of the night. The deportees are flanked by at least two security guards from private companies like Tascor and Mitie. Cases of verbal abuse are common, while many are made the victim of excessive force and restrained in a way that is only supposed only to be used in extreme circumstances.
These secretive flights are routinely used to send people to countries they may have fled in fear of their lives, been trafficked from or have little or no connection. Many of the people being deported have lived in the UK for many years and have families, friends and communities here.
More than 7,600 people have been deported on charter flights to commonwealth countries since 2010. As was reported in 2015, the then acting high commissioner to the UK, Olukunle Akindele Bamgbose, said his embassy was being asked to help remove people who were sick, had immigration appeals outstanding, had no ties to Nigeria after living for many years in the UK and who in some cases were not even Nigerian.
Numerous people have testified to the trauma of deportation charter flights because of the short notice, violent conditions, previous experience of trauma or torture, interruptions of applications to remain and fears for their safety on arrival in the destination country.
That is why 15 activists from End Deportations stopped a flight destined for Nigeria and Ghana in March 2017. Indeed it took just seconds for the judge to grant one of the people supposed to be on the plane permanent leave to remain when his case was finally heard - though, unsurprisingly, the Home Office are now appealing against the judge’s ruling.
As Sajid Javid steps into his role today he’ll have much to think about, but I would argue that ending these cruel mass deportations should be at the very top of a to do list that should include ending indefinite detention, and starting a Commission of Inquiry into the way migration policy in this country has been made in recent years.
It’s worth noting that Javid voted for every element of May’s hostile environment, and so we should be realistic about the chances of him changing the direction of this government on migration. But with the Windrush scandal enraging the public, and with a growing lack of trust in the Home Office as an institution, we must use this moment to apply more pressure than ever to cut the cruelty out of the immigration system.
Caroline Lucas is co-leader of the Green Party and MP for Brighton Pavilion