Campaigners are urging the government to halt an upcoming deportation flight to Jamaica, describing it as “racist political theatre” and warning many of those set to be on board are “thoroughly British”.
The charter plane, scheduled to leave the UK on 10 November, is expected to have up to 50 people on board.
Among those served removal directions is a man with learning disabilities who has been in the UK since he was three months old. Another has four young British children and has lived in the UK since he was 10.
Out of 11 men facing removal that campaign group Movement for Justice is aware of, eight are said to have come to Britain under the age of 16, four are potential trafficking victims after being groomed into criminal activity, and at least four have learning disabilities.
The group has accused ministers of trying to deport people who are “thoroughly British” and have been “failed” by the UK.
One man facing removal, who cannot be named to protect his identity, has lived in the UK since he was just three months old. A psychiatric report written in August 2021 states that he has ADHD and Tourette syndrome.
The Home Office plans to deport the 23-year-old on the basis that he was found possessing a firearm in 2016, for which he served a two-year sentence. The psychiatric report states that at the time he was a “highly vulnerable teenager” who was “used as a carrier of weapons” by criminal gangs.
Speaking from immigration detention, the young man, who spent part of his adolescence in care, told The Independent: “They’re trying to remove me for a mistake I made when I was a teenager. I was around older guys who were influencing me. I was young and dumb.
“It’s been five years now since I served my sentence. I have changed. I’ve moved away from that kind of thing. But I haven’t been given a second chance in my adult life to turn things around. I don’t know anyone in Jamaica. I will probably die if I get sent there.”
Akeem Finlay, who is also facing removal, has four British children all under the age of 10 and told The Independent his partner had already been forced to quit her full-time job after he was detained last Friday, because he is no longer able to help with childcare.
The 31-year-old, who came to Britain aged 10, and who was handed a six-year prison sentence in 2014 for GBH with intent, said: “My freedom has been taken from me again. It’s not like I’m out committing crimes. I’m trying to sort out my family life and my immigration case, but I’m not getting the chance to do any of that.
“My crime happened 10 years ago. I’m still sorry for my mistake, but since I’ve been out of jail I’ve changed my life around. I want to get a job so I can provide for my family. I’m a changed man. I’ve been to jail once. Everyone should get a second chance.”
Karen Doyle, of the Movement for Justice campaign group, said: “When someone has been in the UK since they were three months old they are thoroughly British. They have little or no connection to Jamaica.
“Many have been failed by British schools and the British care systems, many were victims of abuse and grooming in childhood but were treated as troublemakers and criminals instead of victims.”
She went on the claim: “These flights serve no purpose other than racist political theatre by a government desperate to divert attention from looming economic and climate crisis.”
Campaigners have also warned that the Home Office’s deportation system is at odds with the UK’s pledge to tackle climate change, given that most charter flights in recent years have left the country with a fraction of the plane’s capacity on board.
An analysis of data by The Independent earlier this year reveals that the average number of returnees on each charter flight last year was just 15. The last deportation flight to Jamaica, in August, had just seven people on board after 43 were granted a last-minute legal reprieve.
Zita Holbourne, national chair of anti-racism campaign group BARAC UK, said: “The Jamaica prime minister is speaking this afternoon at COP26, presumably on what Jamaica will do to address climate change and the impact that this has on the country; this is hypocritical when at the same time he is allowing these planes to land with a handful of people onboard.
“Climate change impacts the global south disproportionately, including the Caribbean region, while aviation contributes to four per cent of carbon emissions.”
It comes after it emerged that the British Government plans to threaten to stop granting visas to citizens of countries that are “not cooperating” with attempted deportations from the UK, as outlined in proposals to the controversial Nationality and Borders Bill.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said the flight should be called off, adding: “There have been far too many miscarriages of justice in the immigration system. All deportation flights should be suspended while the Home Office addresses its failures to adequately check the circumstances of those targeted for deportation.”
Some 140 Jamaicans with criminal convictions were deported across six flights between 2016 and 2021, according to Home Office statistics.
A Home Office spokesperson said it did not comment on operational matters, but added: “The public rightly expects we remove dangerous criminals and those with no right to be here, which is why we regularly operate flights to different countries.
“All those removed will have had their cases fully reviewed to ensure there are no outstanding legal barriers, including modern slavery and trafficking claims, that would prevent their removal from the UK.”
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