For most of us, airports are exciting. We are usually off to a sunny beach, a family reunion or a business meeting – fidgeting in the check-in queue, desperate not to miss our flight. But, for the minority of passengers who are kept out of sight of the tourists and business travellers, airports are terrifying. They are desperate not to get on the plane. These are the unnamed, "invisible" people that the Immigration minister, Liam Byrne, gleefully referred to on Newsnight last week, saying: "We remove someone every eight minutes." Unbelievably, there are targets on deportations to satisfy voters that the Government is taking a robust line against the "illegals" apparently flooding the country.
Deportees include asylum-seekers who have been tortured and endured perilous journeys to Britain, only to be locked up here. They may fear further persecution once a plane lands "back home". Others, however, have never been "back home" and were born and raised here.
Deportees are taken from oppressive immigration removal centres to airports in blacked-out vans. Brutal "immigration escorts" from private companies often drag the desperate deportee across the runway as he or she screams in terror, then bundles them on to the aircraft in restraints. As the cabin crew advises willing passengers to sit back and relax, the unwilling may be covered by a blanket, with held down between their legs by their escort. They may be warned not to jeopardise the escort's "bounty" payment, which the Home Office calls "overtime".
Accounts of what escorts do to earn their "bounty" is scant. They are allowed to use "reasonable force" but what is "reasonable"? A prison ombudsman's team watched a video of control and restraint techniques used on a female detainee. They reported: "An officer twisted her neck and kept twisting her wrists and swore at her while another officer put his/her hand in her mouth so she could not breathe." However, the team concluded: "It was clear that everything was done in line with proper procedures."
It is easy to abuse when the victim is deported out of sight, out of mind. How can you complain from Congo if you are in hiding, in a prison cell, or a coffin ?
The Government does not monitor the safety of its deportees. Silence makes us complicit. Air crew who witness abuse of their passengers should intervene, get the deportee off the plane and complain to their employer. Customers should challenge airlines to refuse forcibly to deport asylum-seekers, however handsomely they are paid for doing the Government's dirty work.
Emma Ginn works for the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation CampaignsReuse content