Wednesday 23 September, 2020

Last minute reprieve for dozens of Jamaicans facing UK deportation

There has been a last minute reprieve for several of the more than 50 Jamaicans who were scheduled to be sent back on a chartered flight from the United Kingdom on Tuesday.

However, the controversial flight is still scheduled to arrive at Kingston’s Norman Manley International Airport at some point during the day.

According to The Independent, several of those who were booked for deportation will miss the flight after judges ruled they had not been granted adequate access to legal advice.

Persons and organisations who have been lobbying on behalf of the Jamaicans have argued that many of the men had lived in the UK since childhood and committed only low-level offences.

On Monday night, the Court of Appeal ordered the Home Office not to deport dozens of the men who had been denied access to working sim cards at the Heathrow detention facilities following a mobile phone signal outage that prevented them from consulting lawyers. However, the flight is still thought to be going ahead.

Evidence presented to the court by charity, Detention Action, showed replacement sim cards were being distributed only from last Wednesday, breaching the Home Office’s own policy that all deportees must be given a minimum of five working days before removal to seek legal advice if they wish to.

“It comes after the department was forced to admit it had known about the issue affecting detainees’ mobile phone signals since 13 January, but still pressed ahead with charter flights to Ghana, Nigeria and France before providing working sim cards,” The Independent said.

Those still set to be flown back to Jamaica told the newspaper that they feared for their lives ahead of their return to Kingston after ministers defending the flight claimed the crimes committed had been “serious offences” such as manslaughter and rape. According to the newspaper, five people previously deported to Jamaica were  killed shortly after their arrival.

One prospective deportee, 25-year-old Rohan McLennon, who is being held at Brook House removal centre, and who has been in the UK since the age of eight, said: “They are sending me to death. I’m very depressed. I can’t eat. I’m very scared. If they leave me at the airport I will not know which way to turn.

“People are going to take what they are saying and think we are murderers and rapists. That is not me, but they’re going to stereotype us as murderers and killers. People are going to want to kill me. Their own police officers are corrupted.

“I’d rather die in Brook House now than go in that plane tomorrow, because I know my family will come to my funeral. In Jamaica my family would not come. They wouldn’t know I’d have died.”

The northwest London resident said he had been sentenced to two-and-a-half years over a drug offence committed after he was groomed by county lines gangs as a teenager while he tried to save to secure his immigration status. He added: “They want to send me back to a place I’ve not been since I was eight years old. The only thing I remember from Jamaica is brushing my teeth. I’ve got no one there.”

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson Christine Jardine said: “Even after the appalling Windrush scandal, Conservative ministers were brazenly defending their plans to deport people just hours before the court ruled it unlawful.

“No one can trust the Home Office to get these decisions right, and we owe it to the victims of the Windrush scandal to prevent anything like it from happening again.”

Mobile phones provided by the Home Office at the outset of detention are the principal means by which detainees are able to access legal assistance, contact their solicitors and stay in touch with their families.

Handing down the ruling on Monday evening, Lady Justice Simler ​said: “At best some individuals have had a functioning sim card for three working days. At worst, the evidence indicates that some have still not received a functioning sim card.

“Further, in light of the evidence filed by the claimant I cannot be confident that there were adequate alternative means of accessing legal advice and assistance during a minimum of five working days before the charter flight to Jamaica.”

It remained unclear on Monday evening whether all of those due to be deported from the Heathrow removal centres affected by mobile phone problems would be taken off the flight, but Detention Action said this was likely to be the case.

Bella Sankey, director of the charity, said the “landmark” decision was a “victory for access to justice, fairness and the rule of law”.

She added: “On the basis of this order from our Court of Appeal we do not believe that anyone currently detained at the Heathrow detention centres can be removed on tomorrow’s flight. We understand that this will apply to at least 56 people.”

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