Mother-of-three to be forcibly deported on Jamaica charter flight - after 25 years in the UK

Sophia says her 13-year-old son, who suffers from Sickle-cell disease, a serious inherited blood disorder, will suffer

Charlotte England
Tuesday 07 March 2017 18:24 GMT
Across the Atlantic early on Tuesday, problems and confusion ensued
Across the Atlantic early on Tuesday, problems and confusion ensued (Getty Images)

A mother of three whose youngest son suffers from a serious blood disorder, is to be forcibly deported to Jamaica tomorrow, despite having lived in the UK for more than 25 years.

Sophia, who asked to be identified by her first name only, is being held at the notorious Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre ahead of a secretive charter flight, which is expected to take around 100 people to the Caribbean country.

The 47-year-old's youngest son, who is 13, has Sickle-cell disease. His sister, Ruth, told The Independent that he had been taken to hospital with severe pain three times, after he witnessed his mother taken away by police in October.

Sophia, whose indefinite leave to remain in the UK was revoked after she committed a non-violent crime, has been told by the Home Office that she can either take her children to live with her in Jamaica, or communicate with them via Skype.

But she believes her youngest son would be unable to access the medication and treatment he needs in Jamaica, where she has no remaining family and fears she would be homeless and destitute.

Sophia said that while she could not bear the thought of being separated from her children, she is "really, really scared" of being beaten by male guards if she refuses to board the plane.

Like Sophia, many of those due to board the highly controversial charter flight have lived in the UK for decades. Some arrived as small children and say they do not remember the country they are being sent back to.

Activist groups allege people who are resisting deportation have been brutally beaten by immigration officers dressed in riot gear.

The Unity Centre, which helps asylum seekers, say detainees at Brook House Immigration Removal Centre told them staff broke a man's left arm as he tried to escape, pepper spraying him and leaving him hanging from the side of a building, clinging to mesh, after he climbed out of a window to get away from them.

The Home Office dispute this version of events.

A spokesman said: “A minor incident at Brook House Immigration Removal Centre involving one individual occurred overnight. There were no reported injuries and all other detainees were secure throughout.”

Ruth, 24, was heavily pregnant when her mother was detained. She took in her youngest brother, but she said the stress of dealing with his illness, in addition to worrying about her mother, caused her to go into labour at seven-and-a-half-months pregnant and give birth to her third child prematurely.

She is now struggling to cope with her brother's health needs as his condition has deteriorated, in addition to caring for her young children.

“For 13 years he never had a crisis," Ruth told The Independent. "In October when immigration sent the police to get my mum, that next morning I had to rush him to hospital. He had his first crisis”

Doctors agreed stress had exacerbated his health problems, she added.

“He’s been asking when his mum is coming home," she said, adding that he was forced to move to a different city to live with her and had not settled into his new school yet.

He was getting sick and coming home early nearly every day, she said.

Even when his condition is not flaring up, she added that caring for him can be difficult.

“He has to go to hospital appointments every month. He has to take medication everyday,” she said. “Every single day I have to remind him, in addition to having my own three kids as well. It’s hard. And he has a mum. A mum who is fit and strong and could do all that for him. And they’re trying to send her away. It just doesn’t make any sense.”

Sophia’s other son, who has just turned 17, is living alone in London, sleeping on friends' floors. Without a strong role model, Sophia and Ruth both said they feared he could turn to drink, drugs, or become involved with gangs.

“He needs his mother,” Ruth said.

Sophia told The Independent being away from her children was traumatic.

“As a mother, no words can describe how I feel being stuck in this prison as my kids need me more than ever," she said. "Why are they punishing my family for something minor I did as a troubled kid? They are tearing families apart.”

Because she is not an asylum seeker, Sophia had no access to legal aid and could not afford a solicitor to take on her immigration case for several months.

Last week, a crowdfunding appeal set up by the Unity Centre raised the £1000 needed to pay for a solicitor, who is now attempting to lodge an injunction to Sophia’s deportation on the grounds that it would cause serious and irreversible harm to her right to a family and private life. It is unclear whether the injunction will come through in time.

Sophia believes the Home Office have deliberately tried to obstruct her path to justice.

“What the Home Office is doing is inhumane and my basic human rights are being overlooked," she said. "On a charter flight they can take me however they want without anyone seeing.”

Sophia’s indefinite leave to remain was revoked after she was entangled in a fraud case, which she says she knew nothing about and was tricked and manipulated into by her then partner.

She was initially sentenced to 21 months in prison because she already had a criminal record, having been convicted of several small shoplifting offences more than 10 years ago, when she was trying to support her three children as a single parent living below the poverty line.

She eventually served a short prison sentence of just over seven months, after an appeals judge said she deserved a second chance and concluded that her children needed her around. But five days after she was released last year, she was snatched by police acting on behalf of the Home Office and taken to Yarl's Wood.

The Home Office has said Sophia can appeal to reverse their decision from outside the country under the recently expanded the "deport first appeal later" rule.

But campaigners say it is extremely difficult for people to appeal from abroad and in effect people who are deported almost never get to come back.

They have also strongly condemned the practice of forcibly removing people from the country on "inhumane" charter flights, which take approximately 2000 people out of the UK each year and usually leave in “secret” late at night from Stansted Airport.

Many people do not know if they will be onboard the plane, where deportees are routinely handcuffed and outnumbered two-to-one by security staff, until the last minute.

HM Prison inspectors who accompanied two charter flights in 2011, one to Nigeria and one to Jamaica, condemned the “highly offensive and sometimes racist language” used by guards in their report.

Other concerns raised include the use of handcuffs on detainees “who appeared upset, or who were moving too slowly, despite there being no signs of any violent behaviour which might have justified the use of such restraints”.

Immigrants, including asylum seekers, are also often deported from the UK on commercial flights, but their tickets are sometimes cancelled by the airline, particularly if the pilot, other passengers, or air stewards see or become aware of the detainee distressed and resisting removal and object to their presence on board.

In 2010, Jimmy Mubenga died during deportation to Angola, after being restrained by guards on a British Airways flight.

Sofia said she was extremely frightened by the threat of violence from male guards.

“When these men come, they don’t come in one, they come like four big strong men and force you," she said. "They come and put a restrainer around you, even if you are not struggling with them they restrain you, like they put a belt around you, so your hands are clamped to the side."

She added: “Honestly it is really, really, really scaring me. Because I’ve heard girl's stories... There was this girl, she came back, all of her chest was crushed and her arm was bleeding," she continued. "They really manhandle you before you go on that plane if you struggle with them.”

Campaigners say charter flights are designed to hide the violent and brutal reality of removals from the public.

If her mother is deported, Ruth said she does not know what the Home Office intends to do with her brothers.

She said no one had been in touch with her to ask if she was able or willing to continue to care for her youngest sibling.

Going back to Jamaica is not an option for them, she said, emphasising that both are boys were born in the UK and are British.

"Why would you uproot two boys who have lived here all their lives, who’ve had education here, to go and live in Jamaica?" she said.

"It's a poor country… [does the Home Office think] she should take them with no money, no clothes, nothing, and go to Jamaica? How is that possible? It’s inhumane."

The Home Office said: "We do not comment on operational matters and we do not comment on individual cases, but we expect those with no legal basis to remain in the UK to leave voluntarily. If they do not do so their departure will be enforced."

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