At an approximate cost of £43,000 per person, 90 people were expected to be deported back to their home in Jamaica. However, only seven people were actually on the flight.
The Jamaican government raised fears over the flight due to Covid concerns and also the vulnerability of some of those who were due to fly because of mental health issues and trafficking indicators. A series of urgent high court injunction applications which were seeking to block some of the deportations continued right up to the time the flight took off at 1am on Wednesday morning.
With the majority of those due to fly being taken off the flight seven people who flew are believed to include three taken from prison. Of the four taken from the immigration detention centre, one was aged 66 and one 64. One thought to be suffering from mental confusion and physically frail had to be carried to the plane. According to recent information he is understood to have a Windrush case. At least five of those due to fly had trafficking indicators due to county lines grooming.
The Home Office had given the Jamaican government assurances that no-one who was at risk of Covid would be on the flight following two cases which were confirmed in the detention centre only days before the flight was due to take off. They said that everyone due to fly had a negative PCR test.
Director of the charity Detention Action, Bella Sankey, said the flight was a ‘watershed moment’. “This chaotic flight is the beginning of the end for mass Home Office charter flights. An unwell Windrush man being carried on to the plane together with suicide attempts highlighted the disasters. This is not how a civilised country conducts itself and public disquiet is growing”.
Karen Doyle of the campaign group Movement for Justice who had worked on the cases of 30 people due to fly, with only three actually boarding the plane, said: “When you prioritise the politics and optics of deportation over human life you are going to get gross injustice”.
The lawyer Jacqueline McKenzie, who campaigns for justice for the Windrush generation said: “The government tried to deport 90 people and destroy 90 families. Something is obviously very wrong when a system which exists to show strength, falsely posited within a paradigm of public safety, gets so much wrong. Deportation is inhumane, we need urgent dialogue at an international and community level”.
Maria Thomas of Duncan Lewis solicitors confirmed that the majority of the firm’s clients who had been due to fly had their removal directions deferred.
“We know the detention centre was not Covid secure as there were confirmed cases including one of my clients. It took three stern letters to even get paracetamol for him. The home secretary’s removal practice by way of charter flights such as this is brutal and inhumane, and also a massive burden on the taxpayer, particularly so during a pandemic.”