British children and partners of men set to be deported on a controversial charter flight to Jamaica within hours have warned that their removal will rip their families apart and impact their lives for years to come.
Dozens of Jamaican nationals, some of whom have lived in the UK since they were children and have British children themselves, have been rounded up and detained in removal centres over the last two weeks in preparation for the mass deportation.
Many have since had their tickets cancelled after lawyers intervened, leaving around a dozen people facing removal. They are all being deported on the basis of past criminal convictions, some serious but others that were non-violent offences committed a number of years ago.
The planned flight has been mired in controversy, with critics angry that the Home Office has issued removal directions to people who arrived as young children, despite a previous decision not to, and concerns over public health after a number of detainees tested positive for Covid-19.
A Jamaica government source told The Independent that a meeting took place on Tuesday morning in which Kingston asked the Home Office not to go ahead with the flight, citing concerns about the spread of Covid – but their request appears to have been ignored.
The Home Office said it managed charter flight operations carefully and only removed people when it was safe to do so, adding that all those on the flight would be seen by a healthcare professional prior to their departure.
Aside from the public health concerns, The Independent has heard from the partners and children of those being deported about the devastating impact the removal will have on their family lives, with campaigners accusing ministers of “state-sanctioned damage to children on a massive scale”.
Campaign group Movement for Justice says that over a dozen black children face losing their fathers as a result of the charter flight.
Nico McLean, 17, whose father Sanjay McLean is facing removal despite the fact that he is believed to have a right to British citizenship under the Windrush scheme, said he felt “shocked” and “anxious” at the prospect of his parent being removed from the country.
“The whole thing is messing with my head – he’s my dad. We have a close bond. He’s always there to talk to me; anytime I need advice he tells me what I need to hear,” he told The Independent.
“It’s making me feel so anxious. From seeing your dad regularly to being told he’s being sent away from the country he’s lived in since he was younger than I am now… The whole thing is really getting to me.”
Nico, who does not live with his father but sees him every fortnight and speaks to him regularly, said he was worried about the impact his removal would have on him and his half-brother, who is seven.
“As well as affecting my dad it will affect me and my little brother. How do you explain to a seven-year-old that he’s not going to see your dad?”
The 17-year-old disputed claims by government that his father – who is being removed on the basis of an ABH offence in 2014 – and other deportees are “dangerous criminals”.
“He isn’t bad or dangerous. In moments people make mistakes, but you learn from them. People deserve to be given a second chance to prove that they recognise their mistakes,” he added.
“A lot of my friends live with their mums and dads, so for me to know I might not see him is kind of heartbreaking. It makes me think, why can’t I have both of my parents here?”
Another father facing removal, Akeem Finlay, 31, has four British children all under the age of 10. He lives in Croydon with the youngest, a 10-month-old daughter, and sees the other three regularly, particularly his eight- and six-year-old sons whom he picks up from school most days.
Both his current girlfriend and his ex-partner, who also lives in Croydon, told The Independent he has a close bond with his children as well as with his stepson, aged five. Mr Finlay plays a crucial role in their childcare, allowing the two women to work.
He is facing removal on the basis of a GBH offence in 2014, for which he was sentenced to six years in jail and served just over two years. He has had no convictions since. He arrived in the UK aged 10 after he was a victim of a gang attack in Jamaica aged nine.
Shana, Mr Finlay’s ex-partner, with whom he has two sons aged eight and six, told The Independent his removal may force her to stop working or reduce her hours, as he does the school run three days a week.
She said his absence was also already affecting her sons, saying: “They’re usually well-behaved kids, but they know what’s happening. They usually see him every day.
“They’ve been shouting at each other, arguing, and I know where it’s all stemming from. All I can do is get their dad on the phone.”
The 29-year-old added: “I can’t even put into words how it is going to be if he goes. They’ve had such a good routine seeing him regularly. He does the school run three days a week and they go back to his. He takes them to football training. He’s an amazing dad – what am I supposed to do?”
Nicole, Mr Finlay’s girlfriend, said the prospect of her partner being removed was “heart-wrenching” and would “rip apart” the close bond he has with both their daughter and her five-year-old son.
“My baby was just starting to talk when he left. She will continuously say ‘Dad’. She’s been having random outbursts of crying. He’d never spent a night away from her since she was born,” she said.
“He’s also a big influence on my son. There are loads of things I won’t be able to teach him because I’m not a man. He’s confused as to why he’s not at home.
“For him to be taken from them is unimaginable. They’re not just punishing Akeem, we’re all going to be affected by it. But the government don’t look at the ripple effect it will have on everyone.”
Nicole said that since Mr Finlay was detained she has had to take time off work to look after their daughter, and that his removal would mean her having to quit her job entirely and rely on benefits.
“To have a mum and a dad, it’s a big thing. To split that up doesn’t make sense. You would surely want kids to have that stability so that they can avoid making the mistake he made and stay on the right track,” she added.
Karen Doyle, of Movement for Justice, told The Independent that some of the black men currently facing deportation had themselves experienced a parent being deported when they were children.
“Whole generations of children are being left without a parent because the state says ‘We don’t give a damn’. That leads to a cycle that can get repeated; it’s against human rights, it’s unacceptable and it is state-sanctioned damage to children on a massive scale,” she said.
Immigration law denotes that a parent can be deported and the state will tolerate consequences for the children as long as they are not “unduly harsh”.
“So there could be harsh consequences for the child, as long as it’s [not] ‘unduly’, which says it all, really,” said Annie Campbell Viswanathan, director of Bail for Immigration Detainees.
She added: “You can see a situation in 25 years’ time where the consequences of these policies become apparent and these children are saying, ‘Look what you did to me, British state,’ and the state will say ‘We didn’t know at the time’.
“The black community is under siege through the Home Office’s hostile environment; if it’s not one thing, it’s another.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The government is clear that foreign nationals who abuse our hospitality by committing crimes should be in no doubt of our determination to deport them.
“The length of time a person has lived in the UK, as well as the strength of their social, cultural and family ties, are factors considered when determining any Article 8 claim and whether there are very compelling circumstances which satisfy the requirements of the immigration rules.”
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