On Wednesday, I received a nine-month prison sentence, suspended for 18 months, for taking part in an action in March 2017 that stopped a deportation charter flight to Nigeria and Ghana. Six weeks before our sentencing, 15 of us were convicted of intentionally disrupting an aerodrome in such a way to “endanger the operations or people at the aerodrome”. This is a terror-related offence introduced after the Lockerbie bombing.
In many ways, this is an unprecedented conviction and deeply disturbing when seen as part of a wider clampdown on migrant solidarity across Europe. In others, we must remember that anti-terror laws have targeted people of colour, migrants and movements for decades. In the Bradford 12 case in 1981, communities successfully defeated a charge of conspiracy to endanger lives and argued that they had a right to defend themselves against racism. In our case too, the reality was endangerment was the opposite of our intentions, we were there because people due to be on that flight told us, via the Detained Voices blog, that their lives were in danger if they were deported.
I remember sitting in the minibus on the way to the airport. We re-read the testimonies of the people due to be on the flight. One in particular sticks with me. A man who had lived in the UK for eight years was told that he would be deported, despite the fact his whole family was here and a doctor said he wasn’t fit to fly just three weeks before the flight. If he was deported he would be made destitute. Those words galvanised us. I felt nervous but entirely sure that this was the right thing to do.
Nearly two years on and all 15 of us avoided prison last week. At the same time as so many wonderful supporters were arriving at our demo, however, the Home Office forced around 40 people on to a plane to Jamaica. We heard reports of there being as many as 10 guards per person. I dread to think of being in that situation. This is the first mass deportation to the Caribbean since the Windrush scandal, which led to at least 11 people dying as a result of being wrongfully deported. It would appear nothing has been learned since the scandal and nothing has changed. The fact that the Home Office continues with these brutal practices just shows how callous the system is, and how it needs to be stopped. Tireless campaigning from groups like Black Activists Rising Against Cuts (BARAC) meant that up to 21 people were not on that flight this week. Sadly, however, the deportation still went ahead and included people like CB, a 23 year old man, who was ripped from his family, and his only offence was driving-related, in which no one was hurt.
On the same day, during the demo outside court – a supporter in the crowd was so pleased to come and tell us they got status (subject to the Home Office not appealing) – they had been fighting for this almost as long as we had been dealing with our trial. These are just a few of the complex realities that we live in that occurred just on a single day. We have victories and we have losses. We have joy and we have pain.
I was lucky enough to wake up in my own bed the day after sentencing – I’m still in a daze and nothing has sunk in yet. I was really expecting to be in a cell right now, but I’m so glad not to be. Yet, there are around 92,500 people in prison in the UK. The Lammy Report adds weight to the evidence that the criminal justice system is racist, classist and targets the most vulnerable in society. Prisons are more about excluding and criminalising people than they are about justice or dealing with harm. We can do better than this.
This week, End Deportations and other groups are calling for actions against the Home Office. The outcome of our trial was a partial victory in a world full of heartbreaking contradictions. In Emergent Strategy adrienne maree brown (sic) writes that it is our love for community that helps us to keep going with broken hearts and that when we engage in acts of love we are at our most resilient. I’m so grateful to everyone who has supported us these last two years – you have all made this journey much easier. This part of the journey is now over though, and we must now build on our outrage and engage in more acts of love towards those facing the brutality of the UK border regime.
Let’s celebrate our gains, and continue the struggle – the world without prisons, police, and borders is ours for the making.
Ali Tamlit is one of the Stansted 15 and a member of End Deportations