In Prime Ministers’ Questions on 6th February 2020, Nadia Whittome MP expressed concerns about the upcoming charter flight to Jamaica.
“It’s been 2 years since the Windrush scandal exposed the wrongful detention and deportation of Windrush citizens. While we wait for the much-delayed publication of the Lessons Learned Review the government plans to deport 50 people to Jamaica next week. Will the Prime Minister immediately suspend the flight until the Lessons Learned Review is published and the recommendations implemented?”
The Prime Minister’s response did not address the question but simply stated:
“I think the whole house will understand that the people of this country will think it right to send back foreign national offenders”.
This does not address the effect this charter flight will have on British families and communities here in the UK. Of the 50 people who are currently scheduled to be forcibly removed on the charter flight to Jamaica on the 11th February 2020, 5 are BID clients. All 5 are fathers who will be permanently separated from their children by deportation. It cannot be in the national interest for children in the UK to grow up without one of their parents. The impact this will have on their children is devastating.
Dawn Butler MP also raised concerns in Parliament on 6th February 2020: “The Home Office press team told journalists that everybody on the deportation flight to Jamaica are serious criminals. Mr Speaker this seems not to be true… I’ve got the wife of a constituent of mine who has said that he is due to be deported in just six days time. He was convicted under the now unlawful joint enterprise rule. He was released after 2 months and his wife feels that this stress is going to kill her husband because he has a heart problem. Mr Speaker, how can I get the Home Secretary to take this seriously and be truthful about the people who are on the flight, the deportation flight, and if we can halt the flight until we can establish the true facts of the situation.”
Successive pieces of legislation have punished those seeking to challenge deportation:
Automatic deportation for Foreign Nationals who receive a 12-month custodial sentence was brought in under the UK Borders Act 2007. This applies to all foreign nationals, including those who have indefinite leave to remain and families in the UK, and those who grew up and went to school in the UK and could have been eligible for British Citizenship.
BID considers their detention and deportation at the end of their custodial sentence to be a triple punishment which tears families and communities apart and denies people any prospect of rehabilitation.
There is no general legal aid for deportation appeals. Cuts to legal aid introduced under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) 2012 removed non-asylum immigration work from the scope of legal aid.
We are also very concerned about reports that people held in prisons will not be able to access legal advice in advance of their deportation. There are no immigration legal advice surgeries for people detained in prisons, and access to communication with those outside the prison is heavily restricted. We are concerned about reports that a number of people in prisons may be removed before they are able to access legal advice.
Changes brought about under the Immigration Act 2014 introduced additional hurdles to those seeking to challenge deportation on the basis of the strength of family or private life in the UK. To succeed in a deportation appeal on the basis of your parental relationship, it is necessary to show that deportation would be ‘unduly harsh’ to the child, which has been interpreted by the Home Office to mean ‘excessively cruel’. That is to say, UK law sanctions cruelty to children as long as it is not ‘excessive’. These hurdles, combined with the removal of legal aid for deportation cases, means that loving and capable parents are frequently deported from the UK, leaving children to grow up without one of their parents.
EB came to the UK when he was 8 years old. He considers himself to be British. He has a British partner and four children in the UK (two biological children and two stepchildren) all of whom are British citizens. His detention has put the family under considerable strain. While EB has committed low-level offences in the UK he has never received a custodial sentence amounting to 12 months which would make him automatically liable to deportation. He is assessed as a low-risk of reoffending by the probation service. Were a British citizen to commit similar offences, they would now be in the process of reintegrating into the community and would not be deemed to be a risk to the public. They would not be held in detention for longer than their sentence or punished again by way of separation from their partner and children and transported to a country that they do not know. The Home Office is currently holding EB in immigration detention and proposes to deport him to Jamaica on the charter flight on the 11th of February.
The last charter flight to Jamaica took place in February 2019, less than a year after the Windrush scandal. Many of the people on board had British born children and at least one had a baby on the way. At the time, the government claimed that all the people on board the flight were serious criminals. However, as The Guardian revealed, a number of those people turned out to have been deported for relatively minor convictions, including one man sentenced for a dangerous driving offence. In response 58 MPs called for an immediate halt to the flight through an open letter.
The government spends vast sums on charter flights. 46 people were removed by charter flight from July to Sep 2019, on 6 charter flights. 203 guards were used. It was recently revealed by Mitie, who provide 'escorting' services for the Home Office, that their 10-year contract with the Home Office was its largest ever, worth £525 million.
 See section 117C of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, amended by the Immigration Act 2014