A deportation flight to Jamaica on the day England’s coronavirus lockdown lifts, arranged by the Home Office, has caused uproar and accusations of institutionalised racism.
The national co-chair of Black Activists Rising Against Cuts UK, and organiser of a long running petition calling for the Home Office to end “mass deportations” to Jamaica, Zita Holbourne, said it was a dangerous step to deport people during a pandemic. She was disturbed to learn the government had planned the deportation flight for 2nd December, the day England’s nationwide lockdown aimed at preventing the spread of Covid-19 lifts.
Ms Holbourne said: “There were no deportations to Jamaica through the first lockdown and in fact a lot of people were released from detention because of the pandemic”. “To be doing this during the pandemic is a breach of human rights and ‘it is not safe'”.
It is unclear how many people are expected to be on the 2nd December deportation flight. Speaking from the Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre in Harmondsworth, a Jamaican National said he was feeling very low and depressed after having been given a deportation order. As well as living with the fear of contracting coronavirus whilst in immigration detention he is devastated at the thought of being taken away from his partner, with whom he has built a life with in the UK.
With detainees forced to travel at a time when people across the country are being urged to stay put, the deportation flight itself could pose great risk, warned Ms Holbourne.
Due to the fact that black and other ethnic minorities have been found to be at a greater risk of death from Covid-19 than other groups, the activist says the Home Office’s deportation flight should not be allowed to leave the ground.
In a recent study, commissioned by London Mayor Sadiq Khan, researchers found that black people were at almost twice the risk of dying from Covid-19 than white people. Data analysed from local and national sources found that black people were at least 1.9 times more at risk of dying after contracting the virus.
Clive Lewis, Labour MP also condemned the planned flight and said: “The Home Office’s dehumanising attitude to people resident in, immigrating to, and seeking refuge in the UK is totally out of step with the inclusive Britain that so may of us want to see”. “Deportation flights are part of a broader issue of institutionalised racism in Britain”. Undoing institutionalised racism starts one step at a time and the Home Office can choose to take the first step by stopping the deportation of Osime Brown, referring to the case of a 22 year old autistic man whose family is currently fighting to stop his own deportation to Jamaica. Mr Lewis also said: The Home Office should also be ‘halting the deportation flight to Jamaica which is planned for 2nd December”.
An ongoing petition launched by Ms Houlbourne has over 150,000 signatures.
The Home Office faced scrutiny earlier this year over its deportation flights to Jamaica after it allowed one such flight to take off despite a legal challenge alleging that some detainees had not had adequate access to legal support. Coronavirus measures put in place at detention centres are making it difficult again for detainees to access legal advice. Until coronavirus measures are lifted no deportation flights should be leaving the ground says Ms Holbourne.
A spokesperson from the Home Office made a statement saying “We make no apology for seeking to remove dangerous foreign criminals to keep the public safe”. “None of the individuals due to be on the flight are eligible for the Windrush scheme.
Ms Holbourne said: “The government will say that they’re all hardened criminals and they are all rapists and murderers when in fact the majority of them may have committed a one off crime, maybe drugs related or even a traffic offence. This is punishment by virtue of the fact they weren’t born in the UK even though they have grown up and been schooled here, and this is the only home they know”.
This is happening just before Christmas when families can’t visit detention centres due to the restrictions, to say goodbye.
Bella Sankey, director of advocacy group Detention Action warned, ‘lots of children stand to lose a parent’ due to the deportation flight. Detention Action is seeking to conduct a report on the potential impact of the deportation flight, ahead of its departure.`