Today we are demonstrating against the Home Office’s planned secretive mass charter flight deportations to Jamaica and Nigeria.
A full amnesty to those who have been criminalised by racist immigration laws is the only way to right a historic wrong.
By Karen Doyle, Movement for Justice
This weekend we celebrated the release of Yvonne Williams – a 59 year old grandmother of seven children who has spent the past EIGHT months locked up.
Her crime? Coming a cropper of a racist immigration system that has criminalised generations of blacks and Asian people from the commonwealth.
The taxpayer has spent tens of thousands of pounds to incarcerate a grandmother in the notorious Yarl’s Wood detention centre for over eight months, causing immense stress to her and her British family.
Yvonne has been locked away from the British grandchildren she had been looking after as well as her two daughters with British citizenship.
Yvonne’s mother came to the UK as part of the Windrush Generation invited from the Commonwealth in 1962.
Her mother is now in a nursing home and Yvonne was unable to visit her for eight months until she was finally released from Yarl’s Wood on Friday 27 April after a public outcry.
Yvonne and her family have spent 16 years since she came to the UK in 2001 to try and regularise her stay.
Every time she has been refused by the home office citing lack of family connections. – This is despite her mother, six siblings, two daughters, seven grandchildren and numerous nephews and nieces with British citizenship.
Yvonne was finally released after an outcry, but she is desperately worried about the friends she left behind, locked up like she was indefinitely in Yarl’s Wood detention centre.
One of them is 63 year old Yvonne Smith, a Jamaican grandmother whose 92 year old father came to the UK in 1957. Her mother came to the UK soon after, as did her brother and sister as children around 1968.
Yvonne stayed behind with her grandmother. Sadly her mother died young and Yvonne did not make it over to join her family, staying behind and caring for her grandmother who passed away when Yvonne was in her 30’s, she came to the UK .
Yvonne is the main carer for her 92 year old Windrush Generation father who had a stroke in 2009. She has six British siblings, 20 British born nephews and nieces and four British grandchildren. Despite this the Home Office decided she had “No close suitable ties”.
Yvonne Smith’s is a very similar history to Yvonne Williams, neither fit into the narrow category of ‘Windrush generation’ laid down by the government. They represent the vast numbers of people who will fall through the cracks of Theresa May’s ‘apology’.
Yesterday we celebrated Yvonne Smith’s release from detention too. – The 63 year old grandmother had also been locked up for a shocking eight months.
Both Yvonne’s mental and physical health had deteriorated massively so it was a massive relief.
Both Yvonnes were issued last week with removal directions which say they will be removed on charter flight PVT070 to Kingston Jamaica after 5 working days from the directions being served.
Flight PVT070 is the same charter flight that carried out a controversial mass deportation of over 40 Jamaicans in March 2017.
Yvonne Williams has been told her removal was ‘suspended’.
Yvonne Smith remains under threat.
Technically she could still be taken away from the Birmingham family she was reunited with after eight months yesterday.
She could be torn away from them with no notice and put in shackles with dozens of others and removed on a flight to Jamaica this week.
This is why today Movement For Justice are demonstrating outside the Home Office and the Jamaican Embassy:
MFJ call Emergency Demonstration & March Tuesday 1st May at 1pm – Home Office on Marsham St SW1P 4DF , 4pm at Jamaican High Commission SW7 2BZ
If the new Home Secretary Sajid Javid and his predecessor the Prime Minister Theresa May are serious about bringing back humanity to our immigration system, this should start with stopping this flight and giving people like Yvonne an amnesty as well as an apology.
Both Yvonnes are also worried about other women who endured incarceration with them in Yarl’s Wood and this week face removal to Nigeria.
They have also been issued with removal directions for a charter flight, which could be any time after Wednesday 3 May.
When I met with Yvonne Smith in Yarl’s Wood she was very clear about the nature of these mass deportation charter flights:
“There’s been 5 or 6 charter flights since I’ve been here, big guards grabbing Nigerian girls in their nighties and dragging them away, so many. Some of the people, they have no ticket, this girl was taken to Ghana she never been there before, they didn’t give her a ticket.
“How can they treat people like that? They take them in the dead of night to a military base in Doncaster, one girl is now on the streets in Nigeria.
“ We don’t have anyone back home, how can they do this to us? We’re all human beings but they treat us like animals”
Scheduled to be on the Nigerian charter flight is ‘O’, an asylum seeker, victim of rape and gang rape at the hands of her brother in law following the death of her husband.
Her in-laws took her children and forced her to live on the streets; they are part of powerful criminal gangs who bribe the police to look the other way.
O was taken straight into detention at the airport and subjected to an asylum process that can only be described as torture, a process which set her up to fail.
Her story formed part of the basis of Movement For Justice’s submission to the Parliamentary Detention Inquiry: read O’s story.
All of these stories represent the gaping hole at the heart of the current debate on the Windrush Generation. The Commonwealth Acts of 1962, 68 and the 1971 Immigration Act on which the government are basing their ‘concessions’, were brought in as explicitly racist measures to stop black and Asian commonwealth citizens from settling in the UK whilst making allowances for mainly white people from the ‘older former colonies’.
In 1999, freshly released cabinet papers from the time exposed the explicitly racist intent of the 1968 Commonwealth Act. Lord Gilmour, one of the original opponents of the Act told the New Statesman in 1999:
“That was why the Bill was brought in – to keep the blacks out. If it had been the case that it was 5,000 white settlers who were coming in, the newspapers and politicians who were making all the fuss would have been quite pleased”.
The 1968 Act was brought in by Callaghan’s Labour Govt at a time when Enoch Powell at his height of racist organising. Then there was the Tories 1971 Immigration Act, hot on the heels of Powell’s infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech. Cabinet papers have also revealed the racist basis for this Act which further opened the door for white commonwealth citizens whist firmly shutting it in the face of black and Asian Commonwealth citizens.
While the appalling racist treatment of Commonwealth citizens is not new, it has been accelerated and worsened by Theresa May’s “Hostile Environment” policy but its origins go back to those racist laws of the 60’s and 70’s.
Both the Conservative Party and the Labour Party are responsible for these historic wrongs done to Commonwealth Citizens. It is that historic injustice that must be addressed and put right.
What we are seeing now with the Windrush scandal is the inevitable outcome of generations of racist immigration legislation. The law criminalised many of those people for simply joining their loved ones at the ‘wrong’ time”
MFJ’s demonstration today will be making the following immediate demands of the Home Office and Government to address the #WindrushScandal:
- Immediately halt ALL charter flights.
- Grant Yvonne Smith a right to stay.
- We call for a full amnesty for all those in the UK without papers.
- We call on the Jamaican High Commission and the Jamaican Government to withdraw all co-operation with the UK’s deportation Charter Flights, withdraw permission to land.
DEPORTATION CHARTER FLIGHTS:
- Figures obtained by I News show that 7,629 Commonwealth nationals were among 13,499 people who were removed from the UK on 289 escorted (charter) flights from April 2010 to October 2016.
- The last deportation Charter Flight to Jamaica was on 8th March 2014 when 50 people were deported
- The charter flights to Jamaica sweep up people who’ve often spent the majority of their lives in the UK, people who have British children, who have no family left in Jamaica.
- In July 2017 the Independent Monitoring Board covering Charter flight deportations criticised excessive use of restraints on charter flights
- Charter flight deportees tell harrowing stories of how they were treated and the extensive family connections and lives they were being ripped away from
- In March 2017, 15 activists from End Deportations blocked a charter flight to Nigeria from taking off at Stanstead, several of the people who were due to be on that flight were later released. The Stansted 15 are facing terror charges
- For extensive information on the UK’s secretive Charter Flight removals, read Corporate Watch Report