Content note: violence, detention, self-harm
“As a mother, no words can describe how I feel being stuck in this prison as my kids need me more than ever. Why are they punishing my family for something minor I did as a troubled kid? They are tearing families apart. What the Home Office is doing is inhumane and my basic human rights are being overlooked. On a charter flight, they can take me however they want without anyone seeing.”
These are the words of Sophia, held in the harmful Yarl’s Wood detention center since October and one of the estimated 50 people to be deported on a charter flight to Jamaica tomorrow.
Sophia has been in the UK for over 25 years with indefinite leave to remain (which has since been revoked) and has three children – aged 23, 16 and 13. One of her sons, the 13 year old, suffers from sickle cell disease and there are fears he would be unable to access the medication and treatment he needs if deported to Jamaica along with his mother.
The Home Office has offered her a stark choice – bring her kids who have lived in the UK their whole lives and have British citizenship or join the increasing number of ‘Skype parents’ who have been split from their families by the UK’s border regime.
Sophia’s leave to remain was revoked after being entangled in a fraud case she says she knew nothing about and was tricked and manipulated into by her then partner. Because of a criminal record for minor shoplifting, she was sentenced to 21 months but later served just over seven after an appeals judge ruled she deserved a second chance and her children needed her there.
Despite this, police acting on behalf of the Home Office removed her from her home five days later and took her to Yarl’s Wood. Her 13-year-old son was rushed to hospital after going into shock witnessing this and his condition has since deteriorated.
The Unite Centre Glasgow reports some of the people to be removed on Wednesday have lived in the UK for nearly their whole life and many will leave behind children, partners and wider families. Despite having ongoing and inconclusive claims for asylum, some will be deported back to situations of potentially life-threatening abuse and persecution.
Many have pending legal cases and deportation will make it much harder for them to pursue them, disregarding their basic rights. Sophia herself is one of those cases, with the Home Office saying she can appeal the decision from outside the country, something which campaigners say is extremely difficult.
It is the second deportation flight to Jamaica since they stopped in 2014. The last one on 7th September 2016 saw 42 people removed from the country, separated from their families and into destitution and isolation. One of those deported described their experience of being ‘sent back’ to a ‘home’ they’ve never known:
“The lawyers in the UK took all my money, and now I have so little I can’t even afford a bed to sleep on. I can’t find a job and I have no family here. My kids in the UK need clothes and food that my wife can’t afford with the small support I give her. I don’t care about myself I just want to help my kids. Why hurt my kids too?… I still want to have a life but I feel like I can’t breathe. The stress and pressure of every day alone with no one to talk to is going to kill me.”
Zita Holbourne, co-founder of Barac UK described speaking to a partner of one of the passengers on the September deportation flight:
“In the background, as he spoke, she could hear crying, screaming and shouting from others on the flight. The pleas and cries will haunt her forever, she added; the heart has been ripped out of her family. She and her partner have seven children and four grandchildren between them, and her partner was their only grandfather. This is one family’s story, but there will be many others like this.”
Last night in Brook House
On Monday 6th at around 10pm in Brook House detention center near Gatwick Airport, a man refused to leave his room as guards came to take him to another center in preparation for the charter flight. The Unity Centre has issued a statement, drawn on accounts from detainees about what happened that night.
The other detainees were placed under lockdown, the guards strapped on their riot gear and moved in to forcibly remove him. During this, the man’s left arm was reportedly broken and he had climbed out of his window and clung to the mesh covering it to avoid further violence. The Unity Centre reports that he had taken a sheet from his bed and was threatening to harm himself further with razor blades. As of 12:15am, the guards were reportedly pepper spraying him.
“Police have been called by a detainee and say they cannot help. Other detainees are showing support by making noise and contacting outside for help, but are under individual lockdown in their rooms. [We] received several calls from distressed detainees who were coughing uncontrollably and had difficulties speaking, because the guards had opened the roof of the building and turned on the air conditioning at full blast… Making detainees ill is one tactic by the Home Office to make them weak and thus easier to subdue and remove.”
It is experiences like this that are evidence of the kind of violence it takes to enforce Britain’s borders and makes it all the more difficult to believe the statement given to the Jamaican Observer by British High Commissioner to Jamaica, David Fitton. While Fitton seeks to emphasize that “the UK government always encourages voluntary departure”, the physical and mental experiences of detention make the notion of ‘voluntary’ departure effectively empty.
Immigration detention is seemingly set up to create an impossible choice between being removed from the place you call home, being torn from your family, work or school and sent to a place you have little connection to or try to stay, endure the isolating and often traumatic experience of detention and continue to fight with unequal legal resources against a border regime that will do everything it can to find a way to deport you.
While there is much focus on Trump’s rhetoric and policies, the racism and bordering practices of the UK government demands equal resistance. The extension of borders into nearly all areas of social life is being fought by groups such as DocsNotCops, Homes Not Borders, Schools Against Borders for Children and Anti-Raids Network, to name just a few.
The practice of mass deportation charter flights is costly and as such there is a heavy desire to keep the UK’s border regime running as smoothly as possible, making fair legal challenge an unwanted hindrance for the government. Weakened, isolated and unsupported detainees whose stories are not heard and acted on by the public makes this easier. By sharing these stories, putting pressure on the Home Office and the airlines that take part in charter flights you can make it that bit harder for the government to live out the authoritarian nationalism of its darkest dreams.
Things you can do to help challenge deportation charter flights: “We must come together to collectively resist the racist and violent deportations of the Home Office – fight an immigration raid, donate to help people with legal fees before and after deportation, raise awareness, boycott airlines and companies involved.”
UPDATE: The Unity Centre, Black Lives Matter UK and others urged people to call Brook House to demand the Jamaican man (now named as Darren C) be taken to hospital after The Unity Centre heard reports he had been taken elsewhere but remained inside the center. Twitter users are reportedly being told by staff at the center that there was no serious incident and no one was harmed. The Home Office also denies any injuries.