Blockade fails to stop mass deportation of Tamil refugees
Anger as mass deportation of up to 75 Tamil refugees from UK to Sri Lanka went ahead yesterday (15/12/2011). The community and supporters lost two-week long battle to block the flight, despite resisting on all fronts: in the courts, in the streets and finally outside the detention centres.
Campaigners were tipped off about this mass deportation charter flight two weeks in advance, when Tamils in detention centres were given ‘removal directions’ set for December 15th from an unknown airport. Several of these Tamil refugees had already been tortured once by the Sri Lankan government and feared it would happen to them again if deported.
The UK Border Agency’s plan was immediately condemned by human rights groups: Freedom From Torture hosted a panel discussion and published a new report with evidence of ongoing torture in Sri Lanka that documented cases where Tamils had been deported from the UK and then tortured on arrival by Sri Lankan authorities. Campaigners from Act Now went to the Home Secretary’s constituency to hand out information in the street about the dangers faced by Tamils in Sri Lanka. Legal challenges went on in the courts, saving some Tamils from the flight even on the final day. However, the flight is believed to have taken off with the majority of people onboard.
A last ditch attempt by activists to block the deportation coaches from getting to the airport was forcibly cleared by police and 5 protesters were arrested for obstructing the highway. Activists from Stop Deportation Network and No Borders had blocked off the exit to Europe’s largest migrant prison in dramatic style – just as the first coach was trying to drive out. Their simultaneous shut down of two ‘immigration removal centres’ lasted for several hours, before para-military police units were mobilised to escort coaches out through a disused road. In desperation one activist reportedly scrambled under the vehicle in a failed attempt to stop the last coach. Several of the remaining protesters looked visibly distressed once it became apparent police had out manoeuvred them. One of the coaches hired by the Home Office to deport this group of Tamil refugees was from a travel company named ‘Just Go’.
This display of State power was sadly reminiscent of how the Roma were collectively expelled from France last summer, when long convoys of coaches were tailed to the airport by even longer convoys of riot police. Mass deportations take place across Europe, and represent a resurgence of fascism as a strategy of the ruling class to whip up nationalist tensions and dissolve working-class solidarity during economic collapse. Blame the foreigner, fear the immigrant, forget capitalism is crisis. Europe’s been there before, and needs to make its mind up about where its going to go in the years to come as this recession really bites.
Mass deportations are a brutal reminder of how the British Government pays lip-service to human rights but systematically abuses refugees. Entire aircraft are chartered to deport people to some of the most dangerous or impoverished parts of the world, places were commercial aircraft rarely venture. Iraqi refugees have been deported on military planes from RAF Brize Norton. Mass deportations to Afghanistan from the UK continue to go twice a month. Where does this leave the humanitarian discourse that Britain uses to justify its wars – didn’t the British State just go to war in Libya to protect civilians?
The British State is attacking many different immigrant communities through the same intimidation tactic of mass deportations. It is a way to divide and rule migrant communities, to make them live in fear and prevent them from exposing how the British Government is complicit in the chaos that caused them to flee their homes. Look at the total policing of the Congolese community in London when they demonstrate against Britain’s involvement in the pillaging of their country. (see the DRC section of this website for more background on Western involvement in DR Congo)
This is a community who have faced mass deportations in the past and no doubt will again in the future. Practical solidarity like legal observers and info on stop and search rights can help defend communities against the State, because getting arrested at a protest or searched in the street can lead to a deportation. Somehow Britain is getting the Nigerian Government to agree to a prisoner transfer deal, meaning Nigerian’s picked up on the street in places like Peckham will do their time in a Nigerian jail. At the same time, the UK Border Agency has signaled it will stop using commercial aircraft to deport Nigerians – instead there will be a charter flight every 42 days (an escalation from one every 2 months). It doesn’t seem outlandish to suggest these two developments are linked.
Mass deportations start when the State kidnaps members of a migrant community and imprisons them in ‘immigration removal centres’ on the suspicion that they have no legal right to remain in the UK. Once people are detained, it’s easier to portray them as the bad eggs, the criminal elements who cause problems for the rest of their community. The message sent out to the community is simple: ‘this is what will happen to the rest of you if you don’t shut up’. This tactic fits in with the already close collusion between corrupt British officials and the receiving governments. These countries are not irrelevant to Britain, many of them are former colonies or have suffered from severe British interference. The power dynamic established in imperial times continues today – the former colonial master makes shadowy deals to get refugees deported, while friends-in-high-places cash in on the deal, and crucially dissidents of both governments are silenced.
From a personal point of view, its hard not to see our action yesterday as a failure because we didn’t stop the deportation and 5 people got nicked. But if this campaign is about building resistance toward the border regime, then yesterday’s action was a step forward. When we make a stand and bring new people to these protests, we grow awareness of the situation. We have started to build better links with Tamil community groups, anti-deportation campaigners and lawyers. Creating spaces (be they protests, benefit gigs, info-nights, blogs, community media, mailing lists etc) to share information about charter flights and all the different ways people have resisted them will help weave together a powerful network of the different migrant communities affected by mass deportations. The Tamil community is being assaulted in a new way by the British State – this was the third charter flight from UK to Sri Lanka since June this year. Our action was a show of solidarity and a demonstration that more powerful and direct resistance could be successful in the future…I fear it might be called on again in less than 3 months time.
Of course I don’t think we will stop the deportation machine through a successful blockade of one charter flight. ‘No borders’ is an idea that people have the right to move freely across the earth and not be trapped behind borders. The power of this idea depends on a realisation that borders are repressive and not protective. This realisation occurs when we force the State to burst out from behind its fluffy liberal clothes to reveal the authoritarian core that lies at the heart of any State apparatus. When citizens stop automatically consenting to the authority of the State, it inevitably responds with coercion to maintain ‘public order’. When citizens disobey the law in solidarity with the ‘sans-papier’, we show it isn’t normal or socially acceptable to deport people: it’s abnormal and abhorrent. Borders aren’t protective: torture survivors get sent back to the governments that tortured them. Borders are repressive: mass deportations are military-style operations that need a parallel, purpose-built prison network of 11 Immigration Removal Centres in the UK.
When we protest outside migrant prisons and try to block a charter flight, we make this realisation more visible. Because this time we didn’t let the coach leave quietly. It was escorted out by riot vans, flanked by coppers and shadowed by a police helicopter. The everyday invisible resistance of migrants behind the bars of detention centres or in the belly of a deportation charter flight was repeated and made more visible by acts of solidarity outside. Twice the refugees in the coaches saw people trying to block the deportation, and saw they hadn’t been forgotten about.
Solidarity with the deported and with the arrested.