New briefing on mass deportation charter flights available online

New briefing on mass deportation charter flights available online

Corporate Watch and Stop Deportation have released a new briefing on deportations, focusing on the Home Office’s use of charter flights. The 48-page briefing, entitled Collective Expulsion: The Case Aginst Britain’s Mass Deportation Charter Flights can be downloaded here, or you can buy a hard copy from the Corporate Watch online shop.

You can read a review of our report on the Pluto Press blog here, as well as a photo-essay of a recent mass deportation charter flight for more information on the topic.


This report examines the British state’s most secretive and draconian immigration controls: mass deportation charter flights. The policy has existed in the shadows for over a decade, evading popular criticism and any meaningful review. Away from the public gaze, using specially chartered aircraft, the immigration authorities try to get rid of as many unwanted migrants as possible.

Indeed, these mass deportation charter flights are becoming the standard method of conducting enforced deportations to a growing list of destination countries. There is now at least one flight a week to ‘popular destinations’, such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria, which are often closely linked to the UK’s most controversial foreign policy adventures. Yet, the programme was, and is still being, sold to the public on the basis of unfounded myths and outright lies, which have gone unchallenged for far too long.

The UK Home Office has used specially chartered flights to deport rejected refugees and migrants en masse for 12 years now. The policy was introduced in 2001 ostensibly to save ‘taxpayers money’ and effect high ‘volume removals’ of people who refuse to ‘cooperate’ with the immigration authorities. Officials have also claimed the programme was designed to send a clear message, both to the British public and to migrant communities, that the UK is serious about enforcing its ‘tough’ immigration policy.

This report examines in detail each of these and other deceptions underpinning the programme and debunks them using previously unpublished data covering the first 10 years of the programme. The sources used range from Freedom of Information requests, statistical analysis of official figures, court cases, government reports and media articles, in addition to case studies based on testimonies from migrants deported on these flights or organisations that worked with them.

Having debunked the myths, the authors then attempt to unravel the ‘ulterior motives’ behind the UK’s deportation charter flights, bringing to light little-known statements by government officials, secretive meetings and dodgy political deals. The motives examined range from a targets culture introduced by Labour and maintained by the current, Conservative-led coalition government, to the political agendas revolving around the UK’s foreign policy and its disciplining of migrant diaspora communities.

The next section explores a number of important legal questions concerning mass deportation flights, delving into the murky depths of European and UK case law, international treaties and other legal instruments. Among other things, the authors argue that deportation charter flights constitute a de facto policy of ‘collective expulsion’ and must, therefore, be prohibited. Even without this argument, a number of procedural issues that can be used to challenge the legality of these flights are also explored in detail. This is followed by two short sections on specific issues with significant legal implications: overbooking and the use of ‘reserves’, and the more recent use of monitors and doctors on mass deportation flights.

It is important to remember that, unlike deportations on scheduled flights, there are often no commercial and procedural barriers to the exceptional, brutal policies and practices surrounding mass deportation charter flights. There are also no other passengers to witness what happens on these flights, as some passengers did in the famous case of Jimmy Mubenga, leading to shocking revelations about the use of fatal restraint techniques and racist language. On charter flights, immigration officers and private security guards can get away with virtually anything, as they often do, in order to enforce the government’s ‘tough’ immigration policy. Hence, this report not only calls for the immediate halt of the deportation charters programme on the basis of detailed factual findings and legal arguments, but also challenges different practices and procedures that have been institutionalised or taken for granted during the 12 years of this little-known-about programme.

A note on the language: throughout the report, the authors use the words ‘removal’ and ‘deportation’ interchangeably, even though the two terms have different meanings in law and official jargon. ‘Administrative removal’ is a power enjoyed by normal Home Office immigration case workers who can decide, as they often do, to remove someone from the country after their immigration or asylum claim has been refused. Deportation, on the other hand, is used for foreign national offenders who have been sentenced to a criminal sentence of 12 months or more and are then deported – whether with or without a court order – as a second punishment because they are ‘not conducive to the public good’.

The interchangeable use of the two terms, or using ‘deportation’ for both, is a conscious choice: the authors of the report believe deportation should not be an administrative power or an additional punishment (the latter issue is explored in depth in the section on foreign national prisoners). The same goes for the interchangeable use of immigration prisons, (administrative) detention centres and immigration removal centres (IRCs), as they are officially called now.

In a similar vein, the terms ‘migrants’ or ‘migrants and refugees’ are often used by the authors for all types of migrants, unless a legal distinction is necessitated by a specific context. Derogatory, stigmatising and often inaccurate terms, such as ‘failed asylum seekers’, ‘illegal immigrants’ and so on, are used by politicians and the media to divide migrants into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ ones, legitimate and illegitimate, then demonise and illegalise those who do not not fit one of these artificially constructed, politically motivated categories. The authors believe that people choose or are forced to migrate for a wide variety of reasons and should be able to travel and live wherever they want or need to.

Whilst writing this report, the UK Border Agency (UKBA) was split into two separate operational units: Visas & Immigration and Immigration Enforcement. It is the latter that is responsible for most of the policies and practices covered in this report (detention, deportation, etc.). The head of the unit is David Wood, who also features in the report as the previous head of Criminality and Detention within the UKBA.

Thanks are due to Frances Webber, Juliane Heider, Bethan Bowett-Jones, Amanda Sebestyen, Sita Balani and everyone else who helped us with this report, whether by providing information or financial support, reading or commenting. Thanks are also due to the detainees and deportees who shared their tragic experiences with us. It is to them, and all the other migrants and refugees who have faced and will face similar fates, that we dedicate this report.

Liam Fox’s business interests in Sri Lanka drove his parallel immigration policy

Liam Fox’s business interests in Sri Lanka drove his parallel immigration policy

Phil Miller, Stop Deportations Blog, 29th July 2012

  • ex-Minister of Defence planned Tamil deportations not Home Office, research indicates
  • Fox set up ‘Sri Lankan Development Trust’ to make millions from post-conflict reconstruction contracts, not just fund his overseas travel
  • Rajapaksa regime hired Bell Pottinger, a PR firm with links to Alistair Burt, the British minister who claims no Tamil deportees tortured on return
  • Tamil activists accuse foreign investors of fueling military’s “land grab”

The UK Border Agency undertakes approximately 60 charter flights per year and last year we removed over 2,000 individuals on charter flights. We continue to exploit opportunities to increase returns. This includes opening and consolidating new charter routes to Ghana, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.”
UK Immigration Minister, Damian Green, House of Commons, 7th February 2012

The British government aims to reduce net migration from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands. Charter flights are the UK Border Agency’s most draconian method of deportation, involving specially hired aircraft and over a hundred private security guards. But the Home Office’s focus on Ghana, Pakistan and Sri Lanka is inconsistent with a numbers-driven approach to immigration policy. Charter flights do not deport people to China and India, countries where most of Britain’s irregular migrants originate from.

Damian Green’s claim that his Agency was responsible for planning the new wave of deportation charter flights to Sri Lanka is particularly questionable. Green made official visits to Pakistan and Ghana last year to meet their Interior Ministers before launching deportation charter flights to these countries. However, no Home Office minsters have visited Sri Lanka since the Conservative Party formed the coalition government.

22nd February 2011:
Damian Green visits Pakistan. The first deportation charter flight from UK to Pakistan went ahead on 24th November 2011. (Photo: FCO)

27th-28th September 2011:
Damian Green visits Ghana. The first deportation charter flight from UK to Ghana went ahead on 4th November 2011. (Photo: FCO)

This is in stark contrast to Liam Fox, Britain’s disgraced former Defence Minster, who had an active relationship with the Sri Lankan regime. His ‘secretary’ even met with senior Sri Lankan officials to discuss deportations one week before the first charter flight left last June.

My last article explored how this controversial new wave of Tamil deportations serves the Sri Lankan regime’s interests. The UK Border Agency’s claim that it is safe to return Tamil refugees bestows international credibility on a regime beset with allegations of human rights violations. The mass deportations have also intimidated war crimes witnesses in the Tamil diaspora from coming forward.

This article examines Fox’s personal financial motives for abusing his public office to support the Sri Lankan regime. A fraction of Fox’s business deals were exposed in the Adam Werritty scandal last October. The Sri Lankan Development Trust (SLDT) was revealed as a mysterious Fox/Werritty enterprise which supplied £7,500 for three of Fox’s visits to Sri Lanka in 2009 and 2010 (some of which was paid for by the Sri Lankan government). In fact, the SLDT stood to gain millions in infrastructure projects, but this has so far escaped public attention.

As shadow-defence secretary, Fox used a meeting with the regime in Colombo on 13th March 2009 to suggest setting up a “Sri Lanka construction fund”. At a peak in the Sri Lankan military’s massacre of civilians, Fox was planning to “help the Sri Lankan government in handling the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the war ravaged areas in the north and east [of the country]”.

 The Guardian was told by none other than Lord Bell, the founder of PR firm Bell Pottinger, that Fox met Nivard Cabraal, the Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, in the summer of 2010 and agreed that a ‘Sri Lankan Development Trust‘ would invest in road building and other infrastructure projects using private investment (The Guardian, 13th October 2011).

 But the Guardian article failed to mention how much money was at stake for post-conflict reconstruction. In a speech at the opening of an HSBC branch in Jaffna, in February 2010, Cabraal had revealed that: “the Government has now launched a well-planned, integrated, accelerated development program titled “Vadakkin Vasantham.” Under this program, the Government expects to invest approximately Rs. 295 billion (US$ 2.7 billion) during the next 3 years, towards rehabilitation and development activities. This program is expected to cover the rehabilitation of roads and other transportation infrastructure, the upgrading of electricity for domestic housing and industry, water supply, agriculture and irrigation infrastructure and the improvement of the manufacturing framework”

11th February 2010: Nivard Cabraal, Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, opens HSBC branch in Jaffna, to “convey an important signal to the world that tangible progress is being made in post conflict Sri Lanka”. UK High Commissioner, Peter Hayes, attended. (Photo: Reuters)

The SLDT has shared offices with 3G (“Good Governance Group”). 3G is chaired by Chester Crocker, who also sits on the board of American division of Bell Pottinger. The Trust has since registered at a different address, which is also the headquarters of the British firm ‘Cairn Energy’ (The Guardian, 13th October 2011). The article omitted that Cairn prospected for offshore oil and gas in Sri Lanka as soon as the war finished in 2009. Cairn’s Indian subsidiary, Cairn-India secured the first of eight exploration blocks that the Sri Lankan regime is developing secretly.

Bell Pottinger was hired by the Sri Lankan government to improve the regime’s international image after the war. As part of this marketing exercise, Bell Pottinger even arranged for Cabraal to be interviewed favourably on the BBC business channel [VIDEO, 9th February 2010]. Cabraal used the opportunity to promote Sri Lanka as a destination for foreign investment and glossed over the repression of journalists .

Alistair Burt is the only other senior British politician who has traveled to Sri Lanka in this time period. Burt has been exposed as a contact for lobbyists at the notorious PR firm Bell Pottinger (TBIJ//The Independent, December 2011). As the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister for South Asia, Burt traveled to Sri Lanka in February 2011 to visit parts of the war-torn north. In a video filmed near Thellipalai Junction, Burt advised “reconcilliation” between the Regime and the Tamil communities [VIDEO]. Like Fox, Burt is not part of the Home Office. However, he has refuted medical evidence which documents how the Sri Lankan regime is torturing Tamils who are deported back to the island. He insisted that “there have been no substantiated allegations of mistreatment on return” (Letter to Freedom From Torture, January 2012).

Reconciliation appears impossible while the regime confiscates Tamil land. Last month, over a hundred civilians protested at Thellipalai Junction, demanding the military stop this “land grab”. One of the demonstrators, Mr Ranath, claimed the “Mahinda [Rajapaksa] regime is interested in grabbing land to be given to alien investors. They get the commission and the support to carry on” (TamilNet, 19th June 2012). Meanwhile, Liam Fox is making a visit with several other Tory MP’s to Sri Lanka this week.

Thellipellai Junction protest

No Borders Communiqué to Immigration Prisoners

No Borders Communiqué to Immigration Prisoners


To all our brothers and sisters locked up in Immigration Removal Centres,

You are not forgotten!

This is a communiqué from the ‘No Borders Network’

Harmondsworth on the left, Colnbook on the right: both exit roads were closed for 7-hours by protestors

We want to tell you about something that happened on Valentine’s Day, Tuesday 14th February 2012, at Harmondsworth and Colnbrook ‘Immigration Removal Centres’, near Heathrow Airport.

Harmondsworth is the biggest migrant prison in Europe, with 600 people trapped inside. Next door is Colnbrook, another detention centre with very high security, where 300 people are locked up.

At 6 o’clock in the evening, 12 militants blocked the exit roads outside these detention centres. They put heavy concrete blocks in the roads, and chained their arms together inside them. This stopped coaches and prison vans from taking people to the airport. That night, the UK Border Agency wanted to do a mass deportation (“charter flight”) to Ghana. The militants wanted to stop it. They were joined by 50 supporters, who had come from across Europe – from Scotland, Belgium, Germany, France…

The prison guards tried to scare us away with their dogs. Then the police started to arrive, even riot cops. But we keep the exit roads shut for 7 hours, and shouted slogans in different languages.

We knew of about 18 people inside Harmondsworth facing deportation to Ghana that night. The charter flight could take 50 people in total, fromall the different detention centres in Britain. The plane was scheduled to take off at midnight from Stanstead Airport, a 2 hour drive from Harmondsworth. The blockade delayed the coach from getting to the airport for several hours and caused the flight to take off late. This delay won time for more legal challenges that got at least 2 Harmondsworth detainees taken off the flight. The blockade also stopped a man being deported to Sri Lanka that evening on a commercial flight, because the Reliance prison van could not drive him to the airport. Both Ghanaian women at the Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre had their tickets cancelled through their own legal challenges.

All night, we talked with our friends locked up inside, telling them what was going on outside. Detainees said they were happy there was a protest happening and thanked everyone for coming along. Organisations and individuals sent lots of messages of support. Some journalists printed stories about the blockade in newspapers like “The Guardian” and “The Independent”, and it was on the BBC.

The blockade ended at 1 o’clock in the morning. The police got a special squad to cut through the concrete blocks, and then dragged the militants away. 11 of us were arrested, but 3 militants managed to escape. Then we saw the coach driving out, hired from a company called “WH Tours”, followed by 3 prison vans. We were angry and sad, even though we had tried very hard to stop it.

The arrested comrades were kept in the police station for 36 hours. Supporters travelled to the court room for their court hearing. More riot police were waiting outside and made trouble for the people visiting the court room – 1 more person was arrested. Eventually, on Thursday evening, all the militants were released on bail. They have to come back to court on Monday 8th March, to face charges of ‘obstructing the highway’ (this means blocking a road) and ‘section 14’ (which is when the police try to ban your protest but you ignore them). But these charges are not serious and we think the police will lose in court. In fact, we think what the police did was illegal, and we can even take them to court.

We will keep supporting the people who were taken off the Ghana charter flight. They are still locked up in these horrible detention centres, without proper medical treatment or legal advice, away from their families and friends. And as for our friends who were deported, you are not forgotten either. We hope to stay in contact and keep supporting each other. When people who get deported by charter flight work together, the resistance movement gets stronger. In some countries, like Mali and Iraq, there are associations of deported people that organise protests in these countries against deportation. These have become very successful campaigns.

We can’t blockade every charter flight, but there are many different ways to fight the Border Agency and stop deportation. Our struggle continues!


Phone number – 07438 185537
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