How charter flights jettison human rights
Last week’s deportation of the Saleh family to Egypt and the acceleration of returns to Sri Lanka expose how UKBA routinely hire private jets to avoid due process, leaving a trail of shattered lives in their wake.
After the controversial mass deportation of Tamils to Sri Lanka on September 19th, many hoped the UKBA would reduce their program of chartered flights to the island. The opposite happened: UKBA hired yet another deportation jet for October 23rd, two months earlier than anticipated. To justify their bold move, the UKBA issued a new Country Policy Bulletin on Sri Lanka. The Bulletin slandered the pain-staking work of Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Freedom From Torture and Tamils Against Genocide, who had compiled a formidable dossier of evidence to show many Tamils deported to Sri Lanka are being tortured. The UKBA’s Bulletin repeatedly dismissed the evidence presented by these NGO’s, because the latter refused to disclose their clients’ names to the Agency. The NGOs’ reluctance violate the victims’ anonymity is hardly surprising given the UKBA’s tendency to accidentally(?) share asylum-seekers’ files with the Sri Lankan government.
The NGO’s protested that their reports had been misquoted in the UKBA’s bulletin. On the morning of the flight, the UKBA’s solicitors sent a letter [download] to the court, which suddenly retracted the most inaccurate sections in the Bulletin. The Immigration Law Practitioners Association (ILPA) immediately published a response, complaining that:
“The letter was sent at 11.22 am; four hours and eight minutes before the flight was scheduled to leave, at 15.30 hours. The letter draw attention to errors in the UK Border Agency information about Sri Lanka which go directly to the question of the safety of that country for those facing return. That information has been in existence since at least 17 October 2012 when reference was made to it in a letter giving notice of the charter flight. The letter is not marked urgent and the only request made of Mr Magee is that it be out before judges ‘at your earliest convenience’.”
This fiasco must be viewed alongside the July 2011 version of UKBA’s Country of Origin Information on Sri Lanka. This report included evidence from an unnamed “Colombo based human rights worker”, who alleged that “it was well known that many persons who were held in IDP camps at the end of the conflict scarred themselves so that on release they could make allegations that the Sri Lankan government had tortured them”. This comparison reveals the blatant double standards with UKBA’s verification of torture: the government accepts evidence from an anonymous human rights worker and yet dismisses evidence from named NGO’s.
The UKBA’s contempt of court also shows how charter flights are their preferred vehicle for getting away with such hypocrisy. Once the plane is hired, everything is geared towards filling the flight, regardless of people’s rights. A question that must be asked is: why don’t UKBA just stop chartering these flights?
Then again, there is clearly a bigger agenda at work here. The only government department (British or Sri Lankan) to report on the fate of the latest Tamil charter flight was the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defence – leaving us to ask what is their interest in this process? Their press release boasted that “The British Foreign Office in last March told the BBC that they send people back to Sri Lanka only when the British government and the courts are satisfied that an individual does not need protection. The Foreign Office has said there had been no substantiated allegations of mistreatment of those returned from the UK”. The Sri Lankan Defence Minister, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, faces credible accusations of genocide. So yet again we see how these charter flights provide a fig leaf of international legitimacy for a genocidal regime, (a regime which has the patronage of several senior British conservative politicians like Liam Fox).
Saleh family’s deportation to Egypt
Late in the night of the 23rd October, UKBA again strong-armed the Courts, this time because they had hired an entire aircraft to deport a mother and two of her children to Egypt. Activists from South Wales No Borders report that:
“An injunction had been passed to stop the Saleh family’s deportation but after a phone call from the UKBA explaining that the Border Agency had spent £60,000 on chartering a plane to deport the family, Judge Eady had reversed his decision and cancelled the injunction”.
The Saleh family’s deportation by private jet appears to be the second case since Cedars opened last summer. Medical Justice have warned that “the 7-day limit on [child] detention may mean UKBA resort to use increasingly non-standard methods to remove the family (e.g hiring a private plane)”.
Far from ending the detention of children, the government have now extended the scope of deportation charter flights to target single parents and their children who dare to claim asylum. And the judiciary is powerless to hold them to account because the executive (i.e. UKBA) have squandered a lot of tax payer money on an unnecessary and immoral program. So much for the separation of powers, that supposed cornerstone of liberal democracy.
Need for more documentation to support action
The UKBA are organising deportation charter flights every week to somewhere in the world. This article highlights some of the injustices from just one week of their decade long program. Detainees and their supporters are heroically resisting charter flights, as these videos show , . But the UKBA seem determined to carry on. There is a real need for some time and money to go towards a more longer-term analysis of this Home Office policy, which would collate these everyday abuses and dodgy deals to expose the systematic cover-up of torture and genocide which charter flights facilitate. Such a report could be a tool for a diversity of tactics used to stop deportation.