Charter flights: ‘when politics comes before people’

Last month activists prevented the departure of a charter flight from Stansted Airport due to take people from detention centres to Nigeria and Ghana. The activists blockaded the runway and locked themselves to the wheel of the plane. The 17 people who were arrested were charged with suspicion of aggravated trespass and have now been released from custody.  While the flight did not take off that night, it was rescheduled for a couple of nights later.

Photo credit Corporate Watch.

The use of charter flights to facilitate deportation is not uncommon. A Freedom of Information request by End Deportations found that more than 1,500 people were deported on charter flights to Albania, Pakistan, Nigeria and Ghana and Jamaica in 2016. The flights come with little advance warning, people facing deportation often being informed shortly before the flight is due to depart.

After the departure of the flight to Jamaica in March, I caught up with one of our clients, David*. Just days before the flight was due to take off, David was told that he would be removed on a charter flight.  Not long before the flight took off he was granted a last minute reprieve following an intervention from his lawyer.

“The last 48 hours were terrifying. I couldn’t sleep, thinking about what I would lose if I was sent back to Jamaica. I have family here in the UK, my partner and kids. My youngest is only a few weeks old.

I had a ticket to be deported on the charter flight to Jamaica on Wednesday 8, March. On Tuesday I said goodbye to my missus and kids. They came to the centre and they were crying. I had to say goodbye, thinking the worst, trying to reassure them that, ‘Daddy will always love them, that where-ever Daddy goes he’ll always have love for them’.

They told me on the evening of the 7 March that I had a last minute reprieve. But all night long I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t believe them. I couldn’t believe these people who only care about targets and statistics. When politics comes before people, it’s hard to believe anything they say. It wasn’t until the flight left that I knew for sure I wasn’t going.

For me, the future is still unclear. I think they’ll turn down my claim. I don’t know what more I can do. I reported to the Home Office every week for 3 years. I was given the opportunity to work and I worked, supported my family, paid tax.

My kids are here. I live with them. I’ve been here for births and birthdays. I bring them to school, go to parent teacher meetings and take them to church on Tuesdays. I don’t know what more I can do.

The use of charter flights is an embarrassment. They are putting people’s lives at risk. Sometimes bad things happen and when they do, the Home Office brushes it under the carpet, nothing is done, no one is held accountable.

Detention and deportation destroy families. It’s heart-breaking for the kids. The Home Office isn’t thinking about the impact on these kids, depressed at home. And they don’t think of the longer impact, how not having their dad around chips away at them. It starts with a little grudge when they see other people’s dads collecting them from football or taking them to McDonald’s.  If this develops, if they become angry, you start to worry about what kind of lives they might lead, will they turn to crime? You could have a whole generation growing up without their dads, bottling it all up or worse.

Theresa May needs to stop thinking about numbers, or even the individual she is trying to deport, but think about broken families and what this does to society. We’re all human, we all have feelings, and it’s important to have a dad to talk to.”

*Name changed to protect his identity.