Around 70 people have turned out to protest against government plans to restart deportation charter flights to Jamaica, with critics claiming the move was a “slap in the face” in the aftermath of the Windrush scandal and warning of the “dehumanising” process.
Protestors gathered outside the Jamaica High Commission in London on Monday following reports that up to 50 men and at least two women are to be sent to the Caribbean country, many of whom have lived for decades in the UK and have British families.
The charter flight, booked by the Home Office, is believed to be the first to Jamaica since the Windrush controversy, the scandal that saw people who were invited to come to the UK from Caribbean countries wrongly detained, denied legal rights and threatened with deportation.
Campaigners say at least eleven people facing deportation on the charter flight are thought to be connected to the Windrush Generation through grandparents, aunts and uncles. Eight have British-born children, and one grandmother says she is set to be separated from her ten British grandchildren.
A lawyer who attended the rally said that at least one person scheduled to be on the flight had an application pending to the Windrush Task Force to allow them the right to remain in the UK, and that the process should be concluded before they are deported.
Windrush scandal victim Anthony Bryan, who was wrongly sent to an immigration detention centre before a planned removal from the UK, was also present at the protest in a show solidarity.
At the demonstration, supporters chanted “Jamaican government, hear us say ‘charter flights - no way!’”
The people facing deportation are currently being held in detention centres, and all have criminal convictions. But many have never returned to Jamaica, and have concerns about their safety in the country. The country’s High Commissioner to the UK confirmed to HuffPost UK that he has made representations to the Home Office over some cases.
It has been reported some who could be placed on the flight are also thought to have serious conditions, including Twane Morgan, an Afghanistan veteran with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Antonia Bright, organiser of the campaign group Movement For Justice, explained that people who have grown up in the UK risk being “deported next week to a country they don’t even remember”.
She told HuffPost UK: “By reopening charter flights to Jamaica, it is a slap in the face to all of the Windrush scandal which has only begun to be exposed.
“The anger is brewing and it may well be that there’ll be social unrest before this government ends its policy of scapegoating immigrants while it’s trying to get away with its own crisis, its own mess, around Brexit. Which is another attack on immigration.”
Like others attending the demonstration, Bright also criticised the Jamaican government for its involvement in reviving the charter flight, and insisted that it should not “be signing up to it”.
She said: “The Jamaican government has signed on and are prepared to go along with this propaganda that is saying ‘these are just criminals so it doesn’t matter’.
“The criminal justice system has always been disproportionality harsh to black people, part of our struggle has always been against the criminalisation process.”
Immigration lawyer Jacqueline McKenzie said among her concerns about the charter flight was how it was “shrouded in secrecy”.
She told HuffPost UK: “There is no adequate mechanism for ensuring that those listed on these flights are in receipt of quality and independent advice.
“Secondly, the very process of shackling 50-plus people, including with hand and sometimes waist restraints, with each person accompanied by several guards on a nine-hour flight, is dehumanising.
“It seems to me that we have taken leave of our humanity. The government should stay this charter to an urgent review of the policies and laws which drive us to deport people who do not pose any risks or threats to the UK, and particularly those who have spent most of their lives in the UK.”
Among those facing an uncertain future is 23-year-old Akeem. Registered blind and having epilepsy after suffering a brain tumour as a young child, he was born in Jamaica and migrated to the UK to join his mother at the age of 5. Following an assault conviction which led to a four-month jail sentence, Akeem has been detained since October.
“I think this is unfair,” he told the crowd of protestors, from his detention cell, through an amplified telephone call.
“We as young men don’t get any chances. I just want to move forward with my life. It’s dragging me down and I’m sure it’s the same for other inmates at other detention centres all around the world.
“It’s been really hard being detained. I’ve got a partner and a young one on the way. I hope I can be there to bring my child up and help them make them make the right choices in life.”
Akeem’s aunt, also in attendance, said she was “fed up” with the treatment younger people face after previous generations “built this country”.
“Children, who have been here since they were five years old, that they want to deport? Into a country they know nothing about? What are you sending them to Jamaica to do?
“This is a country that says it’s about compassion. Where is the compassion? Akeem has done petty crimes - things that children do when they’re peer pressured and the police build a record on these young people. Theresa May has to do something before there’s another riot like back in the day.”
Speaking exclusively to HuffPost UK, Jamaica’s High Commissioner to the UK, Seth Ramocan, confirmed that he has made an application to the Home Office for an extenuating consideration to be applied to Morgan’s case.
He said: “We are looking into cases, such as Twane Morgan, and are of the view that there should be some form of compassionate approach to his circumstances.”
Of deportation more generally, he said: “Jamaica does not have the right to stand in the way of any sovereign country determining who can remain in this country. What we are interested in is whether the law is being upheld and justice is being served.”
The organisers and many demonstrators were frustrated that neither the High Commissioner nor any of his staff came to meet them and receive a letter calling for action.
When asked about not meeting protestors, Ramocan said: “We cannot be out in the public talking, while we’re working behind the scenes to ensure justice is being served. But we want people to know that the High Commission is not unmindful and is very sensitive to their cause.”
According to Jamaican newspaper The Gleaner, the details of 50 deportees have been handed to Jamaican authorities ahead of a scheduled arrival on February 6.
The Home Office has said: “The UK, like many other countries, uses charter flights to return people to their country of origin where they no longer have a right to remain.
“The majority of those being returned are returned on scheduled, commercial flights but this isn’t always an option, especially where the individual may be a foreign national offender.”