‘We are with you’: Dozens protest outside immigration removal centre against Rwanda deportation plan

Crowd chants “refugees are welcome here” at protest outside Brook House Immigration Removal Centre

Emily Atkinson
Sunday 12 June 2022 19:57 BST
Protesters marched to the Brook House Immigration Removal Centre, close to Gatwick Airport, near Crawley, West Sussex
Protesters marched to the Brook House Immigration Removal Centre, close to Gatwick Airport, near Crawley, West Sussex (The Independent/Zoe Tidman)

Crowds chanting "we are with you" and “refugees are welcome” formed along the perimeter of an immigration removal centre today in protest against government plans to deport some asylum seekers to Rwanda from next week.

Detainees inside Brook House Immigration Removal Centre, close to Gatwick Airport, near Crawley, could be heard chanting in unison with the activists as they shook and banged the outer fence during the protest on Sunday.

Dozens of protesters could be heard shouting “set them free” and “deportations no more” outside the facility, while others carried placards emblazoned with slogans saying “It’s inhumane”, “We stand with you” and “Stop the Rwanda flight”.

At one point the crowd chanted: “Refugees are welcome here.”

Protesters marched to the Brook House Immigration Removal Centre, close to Gatwick Airport, near Crawley, West Sussex (Zoe Tidman/The Independent)
Detainees at Brook House Immigration Removal Centre shout and chant in unison with protesters outside of the centre (Getty Images)
A detainee gestures as demonstrators protest outside of it against a planned deportation of asylum seekers from Britain to Rwanda (REUTERS)

The government’s plans will see some people who have entered the UK illegally flown to Rwanda to seek asylum there. And a High Court ruling means the first flight to the east African country could proceed on Tuesday - but campaigners are due to challenge this at the Court of Appeal on Monday.

Volunteers from Care for Calais, which delivers emergency aid to refugees, made up a sizeable portion of the crowds outside Brook House on Sunday.

One volunteer, teacher Jane Fisher, of Croydon, south London, told of a teenage boy whose parents and sister were blown up by a car bomb in Afghanistan who is now “terrified” he will be deported to Rwanda.

Speaking at the demonstration, she said: “There is a young boy called Sami and he was from Afghanistan, his parents and his sister were blown up in a car bomb and he is 17 and he has come across.

Protesters chant and hold placards against the UK deportation flights to Rwanda (Getty Images)
Protesters communicate with those inside at the perimeter fence of Brook House (AFP via Getty Images)

“He is really frightened he is going to be sent to Rwanda.

“He keeps asking about it because the refugees don’t know what is happening.”

Meanwhile, a 24-year-old asylum seeker originally from Somalia who crossed from Calais to the UK in a small boat in October says he has been living in limbo at the Radisson Red hotel near Gatwick Airport for the past eight months.

Speaking of the Rwanda policy, Abbas Artan said: “The government must stop this because the people suffer a lot. Someone comes here to change his life, to send them back to Rwanda when there is nothing there… some people have said ‘I will kill myself if I’m sent there’.”

Artan said he fled Somalia because the militant jihadist group Al-Shabaab tried to recruit him as a soldier. But when he refused, they knocked out his teeth with the butt of a gun, he said.

His route to the UK saw him cross from Somalia to Ethiopia, then Sudan, Libya, Italy, Sweden, Germany and France, before making the perilous journey across the Channel.

Protesters hold up placards as they march towards the Brook House (AFP via Getty Images)
Organisations protesting the policy have failed in their initial bid to have the High Court block the flights (Getty Images)

Christian Hogsberg, 42, a history lecturer at the University of Brighton, said he was at the protest against the government’s Rwanda policy to “show solidarity with refugees who are facing the danger of deportation to authoritarian regime Rwanda at the hands of a Tory government that is playing the race card in the most shameful manner”.

He accused ministers of trying to get Britons “to blame people who are some of the poorest and most powerless people in the world rather than those who are really responsible for the cost-of-living crisis in our country”.

Up to 130 people have been told they could be deported, and on Friday the High Court in London heard that 31 people were due on the first flight, with the Home Office planning that more planes will go later this year.

The first claim against the policy was brought by lawyers on behalf of some asylum seekers alongside the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS), as well as groups Care4Calais and Detention Action, which are challenging the policy on behalf of everyone affected.

It follows reports that Prince Charles privately described the government’s policy of sending migrants to Rwanda as “appalling”.

The heir to the throne is said to be particularly uncomfortable with the scheme as he believes the widely criticised policy will overshadow his upcoming visit to the country, where he will represent the Queen at the Commonwealth Heads of government summit.

'No Rwanda': Demonstrators at Gatwick removal centre ahead of first deportation flight

Charles was heard expressing opposition to home secretary Priti Patel’s plans several times in private, and was “more than disappointed”, a source told The Times and the Daily Mail.

Elsewhere, Rwanda’s lead negotiator for the deportation agreement has said the country is ready to accept people in “tens of thousands”, but will start on a gradual basis.

Doris Uwicyeza, chief technical adviser to the Rwandan Ministry of Justice, told LBC: “Rwanda stands ready to receive as many as possible under this partnership, we have the capacity to receive in the tens of thousands but for the moment it will be on a gradual basis.

“The UK is providing substantial investment to boost the development of Rwanda, including jobs, skills and opportunities to benefit both migrants and host communities.”Ms Uwicyeza also defended Rwanda’s human rights record and said it was not illegal to be homosexual.

She added: “Not at all, actually based on our history we understand the importance of protecting anybody from hate speech and discrimination, this is not tolerated in our society, the freedom from discrimination due to sexual orientation of a person is guaranteed in our constitution and the rule of law is there to enforce that.”

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