On Wednesday 2nd December, just before Christmas and during a global pandemic, the Home Office intended to deport up to 50 people from the UK on one charted flight bound for Jamaica. For this government, this is nothing new. At every possible turn, they have created an environment that is incredibly hostile to immigrants, the culmination of which can be seen in these (often illegal) deportations.
Is it not morally questionable to send people convicted of crimes (serious or otherwise) to another nation that many on the flight have never seen?
The Home Office stated all of the people that were due to be on board this flight were foreign nationals with no right to remain in the UK and convicted criminals with at least a 12-month custodial sentence. Although indicated otherwise, most were not serious offenders. In reality, most were arrested for low-level drug offences. Even in this context, is it not morally questionable to send people convicted of crimes (serious or otherwise) to another nation that many on the flight have never seen?
The blanket-labelling of all those on the flight also negates to acknowledge the fact that black people and migrants are several times more likely to be stopped and searched, arrested, and handed harsher prison sentences just by virtue of the colour of their skin. It ignores victims of trafficking and abuse that in many cases can do nothing about their situation. Escape from such circumstances may even be how some individuals find themselves undocumented in the first place – whether that be fleeing an exploitative workplace or an abusive partner.
One striking case on the flight was that of a man who came to the UK when he was 13 with his extended family. He fell victim to criminal grooming in the form of county lines drug operations. For this he was convicted with intent to supply Class-A drugs, handed a prison sentence, and now a deportation order. He has no family in Jamaica and would likely end up sleeping rough on arrival. He was one of the few that still left on the flight despite legal challenges to halt it.
Due to said legal challenges brought by family members, NGOs, and charities this flight left with 37 fewer people han was intended according to the charity Detention Action.
Had Priti Patel managed to deport everyone on this list, up 150 British children would have been forcibly removed from a parent, some of which were sole guardians. This is evidential of a system that is heartless to its core that pays no regard to the human stories behind the cases.
In November, a report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) echoed this sentiment, deeming the policies imposed under the hostile environment unlawful and that the government was failing in its duty of care to immigrants. Despite the timing of this report, flights were still arranged to deport dozens of people without due legal course for all going ahead.
What we need to understand is that this story is wider than the deportations.
What we need to understand is that this story is wider than the deportations. The hostile environment has created a culture of fear and suspicion that has shifted our borders from customs checks at airports, and woven them in to everyday life. By making landlords check immigration status on applications for rent, doctors checking status before administering healthcare, and even teachers monitoring students at schools and universities, those with loose immigration status may think twice about using the social services they desperately need.
No matter what your immigration status is, you should be treated with the dignity and respect that you deserve. You would have thought after the Windrush scandal the Conservatives would seek to avoid such publicity again – but then that would be very un-tory of them wouldn’t it?
Image: Wikimedia Commons, The Independent, Change.org