The Home Office is chartering a plane to deport Jamaicans who have no criminal record for the first time since the Windrush scandal broke, in what has been described as an “affront to the Windrush generation”.
Among those set to be forcibly removed from the UK is a 20-year-old woman with no criminal convictions who has been in the country since she was 13 and has no relatives in Jamaica.
The flight, which is scheduled for 10 November, marks the fourth mass deportation to the Caribbean since the Windrush scandal broke in 2018, when it emerged that large numbers of Commonwealth nationals had been stripped of their rights despite living in the UK for decades.
Since then, the Home Office has made a point of the fact that the charter flights to Jamaica have held only foreign national offenders who have committed what it described as “serious” crimes.
However, the upcoming flight, which is due to carry up to 50 deportees, is due to have at least three people on board who have no criminal convictions, indicating a shift in the government’s position.
One of them is a woman who came to the UK with her mother at the age of 13. They arrived on a joint visitors visa, but shortly before they were due to return her mother fell down a flight of stairs and developed a serious injury, meaning she was not fit to fly.
The woman, 20, said they tried to apply for an extension but were turned down by the Home Office. She started attending school in Britain and repeated attempts to regularise their immigration status on family life and human rights grounds since then have been refused. Both she and her mother were detained while signing on with the Home Office last Friday.
Speaking to The Independent from Yarl’s Wood, the woman, who did not wish to be named, said: “I feel confused. I haven’t been to Jamaica for years, I’ve adapted to being in the UK, everything I know is here, we have no relatives there. Going back... it will be difficult to cope.
“I had no control of what happened when I was a kid. I focused on school in the UK, I made friends and worked hard. I don’t want to go and start all over again. I never thought this could happen.”
Her older sister, 27, who came to the UK as a teenager with her father and is now a British citizen, said that she has been trying to help her mother and sister secure their immigration status for years – but that they had been given poor legal advice on a number of occasions.
“Over the years we’ve paid solicitors a lot and often they’ve really messed up. Sometimes we’ve paid them a lot of money and then tried to contact them but they wouldn’t answer their phones,” she told The Independent.
“My sister has been going through a lot mentally. She started to self-harm a few years ago. She got good grades in high school and college and wants to work in healthcare.”
Ms Roberts added: “It feels like the Home Office doesn’t think about people’s mental health. They don’t take into consideration that when they send you back with no support, people there look down on you.”
Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy, who has has written to the government demanding that the two women are not deported, said: “This decision typifies the way the government frequently fail to make a proper assessment of individuals’ situation and needs in their haste to deport.
“What we’re seeing is exactly the same deport-first-ask-questions later approach that led to so much suffering in the Windrush scandal. The government shouldn’t be tearing apart vulnerable families dealing with difficult personal circumstances – especially not while we have an ongoing pandemic.”
Campaign group Movement for Justice said that out of 17 among them whom it has spoken to, the majority (10) came to Britain aged 16 or younger, with five 10 or younger. Nine of them have been in the UK for 20 years or longer.
Many of the individuals are parents of British children, with at least 24 youngsters said to be at risk of losing their fathers as a result of the charter flight. Three deportees are said to have a direct Windrush connection through their grandparent or close elderly relative.
Karen Doyle, national organiser for Movement for Justice, said the fact that people with no criminal convictions were now being deported was an “affront to the Jamaican diaspora here in the UK, to the Windrush generation and the Jamaican government”.
She added: “The mass deportation charter flight has meant families being broken apart, children being left without parents, people with mental health difficulties and disabilities locked up.”
A Home Office spokesperson said it did not comment on individual cases, adding: “Those with no right to be in the UK and foreign national offenders should be in no doubt that we will do whatever is necessary to remove them. This is what the public rightly expects and why we regularly operate flights to different countries.
“Extensive checks have taken place to ensure no one being removed is a British citizen or eligible for the Windrush scheme. People are only removed to their country of origin when it is deemed safe to do so.”
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies