Budget day in the UK is one of the great days of political theatre. Media attention is focused almost in its entirety on the chancellor and his red briefcase. The government seems to take the view that this is a good time to bury the fact that it is engaged in yet another mass deportation.
Mass deportation on chartered planes is a brutal way of responding to the current immigration panic. The nature of the process means people can be bundled out of the country when they have not yet exhausted all their avenues of appeal and without due process.
Reports suggest that a plane was today chartered for Jamaica. Pakistan has long been a prominent destination for such flights, but Jamaica has recently become a more frequent choice. Other recurring destinations are Afghanistan, Albania, Nigeria and Ghana.
For the time being, flights to Iraq and Sri Lanka have been suspended. But this was only after political and legal campaigns, involving refugee movements from those countries and campaigners in the UK.
It is clear that the safety of the deportees’ environment is not fully considered. Many would argue that safety should be paramount, and that some of the destinations chosen for deportations are neither safe nor secure. Leaving aside individual histories, a wide array of issues relating to religious, ethnic, gender and sexual identity can make deportation a high-risk outcome. Increasingly, this type of deportation is splitting up families and depriving children of their parents.
To be absolutely clear: the Labour Party does not condone people staying in this country illegally. Often they find themselves living twilight lives, brutally exploited by employers and at risk of blackmail. There are also sometimes very good reasons for deportation, including the commission of serious crimes while in the UK. But even a criminal must be subject to due process and humane treatment.
Failed asylum seekers, visa overstayers and “illegal entrants” are among the categories being deported. But there must be concern that, in the process of mass deportation, men and women who have committed no crime are being rushed out of the country.
Private planes are chartered some weeks in advance to fly to a specific destination. Aside from the charter airlines, a large number of private-sector firms are involved in processing and “security”. These security firms have faced repeated allegations of heavy-handedness and even serious violence, as Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons reported in 2015.
In this process, there is pressure to fill the plane. There may even be financial incentives to do so. When individuals or families are caught up in the interminable immigration appeals procedures, they live in fear of being rounded up to fill a plane.
If you are one of the unlucky ones, your immigration case, along with any appeal, becomes a dead letter. Worse still, you are left with no realistic right of redress. In many instances, those deported were raised here and regard Britain as their home. In one case, the mother of a sick boy is being deported, despite having lived in the UK for 25 years.
The woman in question was being held in Yarl’s Wood, an immigration removal centre that the chief prisons inspector called “a place of national concern”, after allegations of sexual abuse and intimidation of women detained there.
In 2015, the UN’s rapporteur on violence against women was denied access to this particular centre. That comes as no surprise to me. I have made repeated requests directly to the minister for immigration to be allowed to visit Britain’s biggest, most controversial immigration detention centre for women, and I have yet to receive a formal response or indication as to when I might be granted access.
This government has created an incoherent and inhumane system. The Refugee Council’s recent indictment of the UK asylum system revealed that the whole refugee and asylum process is a bureaucratic mess, with multiple delays, procedures and agencies. There is now a backlog of cases affecting almost 25,000 refugees and asylum seekers.
We need to implement a streamlined system that assesses claims in a fair and timely manner, and treats genuine asylum seekers humanely. These type of mass expulsions are “show” deportations and should not form part of a coherent immigration policy.
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