Sri Lanka

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.

Preface

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examines in detail each of these and other deceptions underpinning the programme and debunks them using previously unpublished data covering the first 10 years of the programme.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.

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Shocking new photo of torture in Sri Lanka

Photo shows back of a Tamil man, photographed in London soon after he arrived here and just before he claimed asylum this year

Important article by Dr Frank Arnold’s published yesterday on Open Democracy, exposing UKBA’s cynical attitude to Tamil asylum-seekers, read it here.

Frank says UKBA case workers still use the notorious letter from the British High Commission in Colombo dated 11 May 2011.

That letter basically said Tamil refugees scar themselves to fake asylum claims.

If you want to know more about the sources in that letter, see here

NB: This ‘blame the victim’ argument that Sri Lanka uses has precedent with the UK government.

When Ted Heath was interning Irish Republicans in 1971, the Ministry of Defence told journalists that “the IRA was beating up its own volunteers so their injuries could be presented as evidence of army or police brutality”, despite the fact that British security forces were systematically torturing suspects [Ian Cobain, Cruel Britannia, p147].

New research is just uncovering how Ted Heath had a hand in repression in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) that same year…

Deportation Doctors: Armatus providing medics for mass deportation flights

Deportation Doctors: Armatus providing medics for mass deportation flights

The UK Border Agency has contracted a controversial security company to provide emergency medical staff on mass deportation flights, Phil Miller reveals in an exclusive investigation published by Corporate Watch today.

Armatus Medical Services, part of Armatus Risks Ltd, won the three to five-year contract in May 2011. Armatus Risks’ directors include an ex-bodyguard to notorious US General Patreaus, and four of the five directors listed on the company’s website boast experience as private military contractors.

Armatus staff in training. Source: Armatus Facebook page

Armatus staff in training. Source: Armatus Facebook page

‘Difficult to understand’

Armatus said its contract with the UKBA would see the company “develop into one of the UK’s largest providers of medical support staff to UK government operations.”

However, a recent report by HM Inspector of Prisons on controversial charter flights to Sri Lanka highlighted how Armatus medical staff signed off on a rough-and-ready practice in which private security guards handcuffed deportees to “prevent self-harm.”

According to media reports, eleventh-hour suicide attempts by refused Tamil asylum seekers were commonplace. The HMIP report cites one case where a detainee “had previously self-harmed, apparently to stop his removal, and had handcuffs on for 5.5 hours from Brook House [detention centre] to the Airport [Stansted].” “It was difficult to understand why the detainee needed to be restrained for so long given that he was under constant staff supervision,” it added.

The man was “examined by medics after the handcuffs had been removed, and the paperwork was completed appropriately.” The report confirms that healthcare staff on the flight were employed by Armatus. “They accompanied each coach and three were on the flight itself – one paramedic and two ambulance technicians.” According to Armatus, all its medics are recruited from the UK ambulance services and from personnel who have completed a training course known as ‘Armatus Risks community responder medical (FPOS-I)’.

The same inspection report criticised the private security guards for having “no accredited training on use of force in the confined space of an aircraft.” It has been two years since HMIP first noted that no such training existed.

The guards are currently supplied by security company Tascor (formerly Reliance), which took over the role of providing deportation escorts from G4S in May 2011, following the death of Jimmy Mubenga on board a BA flight during his forcible deportation to Angola in October 2010. Reliance was bought up by Capita in August 2012 and renamed Tascor.

Conflict of interest?

In July 2011, the UKBA announced that a company called Taylormade Secure Solutions was now the approved supplier of paramedics for escorted deportation operations. Taylormade was at the time a subsidiary of Armatus Risks Ltd, which was formerly known as Longmoor Risks Ltd. The latter took its name from a Royal Military Police base at Longmoor in Hampshire, where most of the company’s directors had taught before selling their military expertise to the highest bidder (see here and here, for example).

At the time, ex-Tory Northern Ireland Security Minister Sir John Wheeler was the non-executive chaiman of Longmoor, which had been bought by Westminster Group Plc. In its 2009 annual report, the group praised Wheeler for his “significant experience and extensive contacts within the security field, which have already been most valuable to us.”

Moreover, Wheeler was a director of Reliance between 1997 and 2000. Wheeler’s ‘extensive contacts within the security field’ may not have only contributed to Armatus getting this contract, they also mean medical care to already vulnerable people is now provided by security companies, where a different set of values and institutional culture dominate.

The managing director of Armatus Medical Services, Charlie Taylor, served in the British Army’s drone regiment and was “deployed to Iraq in early 2003 in an intelligence-gathering role,” according to his profile on the company’s website.

Another division of Armatus provides staff for anti-piracy operations and was promoting its work at a security industry summit in Sri Lanka last year. Sri Lanka is fast becoming a hub for private maritime security companies in the Indian Ocean. Most of Britain’s recent arms exports to the island have gone to anti-piracy outfits.

armatus-risks-logoMigrant rights groups have raised serious concerns about Armatus’ little-known contract with the UKBA. A spokesperson from Stop Deportation said: “Placing the healthcare of people being forcibly deported in the hands of mercenary companies like Armatus is not exactly the best way to respond to criticisms of the conduct of private security escorts. But perhaps that’s exactly what the UKBA intended from awarding this contract to this company.”

It is worth mentioning that Armatus is based in London (303 Princess House, 50 Eastcastle Street, W1W 8EA) and has recently opened a new regional office near Heathrow airport in order to “support UKBA operations.”

Border Agency “disappointed” it cannot deport Tamils for torture today

Border Agency “disappointed” it cannot deport Tamils for torture today

SL banner B

Resistance against Tamil deportations has been gathering momentum

The UK Border Agency’s charter flight to Sri Lanka scheduled for today hangs in the balance this morning after a high court judge ruled that all failed Tamil asylum-seekers cannot be deported before the country guidance case has been concluded.

This ruling has been widely reported in the national news [1|2] , however it is unclear at this stage if everyone will be taken off the flight. Will some people, for example visa overstayers who have not claimed asylum, still be removed on the flight?

It is also unclear whether failed asylum-seekers will be taken off the flight automatically, or if the onus is on them and their lawyers to put in a JR based on these new grounds and also email the court. Detainee support groups are trying to update everyone who was booked on the flight, but this is made difficult because people were put in the isolation wings at Colnbrook and Harmondsworth ahead of the charter flight (as per usual…).

One anti-deportation campaigner expressed his concerns that more urgent casework support is needed:

“I’m just a bit worried about whether all those booked to fly out today will hear about this and be able to get their lawyers to file an injunction by the time of the flight. Unless they have good lawyers that are on the case they may not get injunctions filed for them and therefore will be on the flight regardless.”

“We were overjoyed at the [Channel 4] news. However, we tried to contact people inside but the Tamils we spoke to said when they told others they didn’t believe them and took it as rumours.”

“The problem is, it is a big risk for Tamils to apply for asylum as if it fails and they still get sent back then they will be in trouble with the Sri Lankan Government who see asylum-seekers as traitors.”

“The problem is trying to prove to those inside that even if they only apply for asylum now, it may be enough to get them taken of the flight. Many may still not be willing to risk it. In terms of those who already claimed asylum and had it rejected, I pray that their lawyers apply for an injunction by 4pm so this new ruling will take them off the flight.”

Still, this is a massive breakthrough in terms of stopping deportations to Sri Lanka, particularly on charter flights. The Judge rebuked the Border Agency for scheduling another flight before the country guidance case had finished. According to Channel 4, the Border Agency conceded in a pre-flight letter that several Tamils returned to Sri Lanka had been tortured, but they amounted to “only a fraction” of all deportees. The Border Agency is “disappointed” by the Judge’s decision which prevents them sending failed Tamil asylum-seekers to a situation which, by their own admission, puts them at risk of torture.

The UKBA press team is desperately trying to save face, claiming this ruling does “not represent a blanket ban on returns to Sri Lanka”. So, will they still send a virtually empty flight to Colombo today, just to prove a point? They may also try to postpone it until the media storm has died down. The charter flight should of course be cancelled immediately.

Looking ahead, we need a public inquiry into which civil servants, politicians and businesses have blood on their hands as a result of this 21-month terror campaign against Tamil refugees in the UK.

Torture in Sri Lanka – UKBA ‘not bovered’

Torture in Sri Lanka – Am I bovered?

UK Border Agency made no record of anti-torture inspectors on Sri Lanka charter flight, Freedom of Information request reveals

It’s Sri Lanka charter flight week again. The UK Border Agency (UKBA) press team are coming out with their tried and tested quotes to deflect any criticism of their cynical operation.

Guess what the UKBA said in response to a new report by Human Rights Watch about the extensive sexual violence perpetrated by the Sri Lankan military?

We constantly review the situation in Sri Lanka and the current position, supported by the European Court of Human Rights, is that not every Tamil asylum seeker requires our protection.”

Heard that one before?

Something the UKBA press team aren’t likely to tell us this week is what happened when the Council of Europe’s Anti-torture committee inspected their recent Sri Lanka charter flight in October 2012.

The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (abbreviated to CPT) issued a press release after that charter flight announcing they had:

Examined for the first time the treatment of foreign nationals during an operation of deportation by air. The monitoring took place in the context of an ad hoc visit to the United Kingdom from 22 to 24 October and involved the presence of the CPT’s delegation on a charter flight between London and Colombo (Sri Lanka).

The delegation also held consultations with Colin PUNTON, Returns Director at the United Kingdom Border Agency (UKBA), as well as with senior representatives of Reliance, the private security company contracted by the UKBA to provide escorts for deportations by air.

The visit was carried out by two members of the CPT, Jean-Pierre RESTELLINI (Swiss), Acting 2nd Vice-President of the CPT, Head of delegation, and Jari PIRJOLA (Finnish), who were supported by Fabrice KELLENS, Deputy Executive Secretary of the Committee.”

I submitted a Freedom of Information request asking for copies of minutes or other notes from meetings between the UK Border Agency and the Council of Europe’s CPT during these dates.

Their response was: “We have carried out a thorough search and we have established that the UK Border Agency does not hold the information which you have requested”.

In other words, no one in the UK Border Agency bothered to record what was said between their Director responsible for a highly controversial charter flight programme and the Council of Europe’s anti-torture inspectors. Was nothing jotted down even by some members of UKBA staff who sat with them on the long-haul flight all the way to Colombo?

This shows the staggering sense of indifference and impunity that senior civil servants at the UKBA hold when it comes to sending people back on mass to a well-documented risk of torture. Any reassurances issued by their press team this week suggesting the UKBA care at all about the situation in Sri Lanka are completely disingenuous.

Urgent Statement: Stop torture flight to Sri Lanka on 28th February 2013!

Urgent Statement

Stop the charter flight to Sri Lanka on 28th February 2013!
Don’t deport Tamils to torture

Since June 2011, the UK Border Agency (UKBA) has hired 8 aircraft to forcibly return planeloads of people to Sri Lanka.

Tamils sent back on these flights have been tortured. This is well documented through medical reports by Freedom from Torture and Human Rights Watch.

The UKBA know it is unsafe to return Tamils to Sri Lanka.

But the Agency is turning a blind eye, at the behest of people higher up in the British State who have blood on their hands.

Every UKBA plane that lands in Colombo is a propaganda victory for the Sri Lankan government, whose leaders face credible accusations of war crimes and ongoing genocide against the Tamils. A conflict the British elite manipulated to satisfy their own geo-strategic and commercial interests. Now, President Mahinda Rajapaksa is consolidating authoritarian rule, attacking the independence of the judiciary and freedom of the press.

Every UKBA plane that lands in Colombo is a green light for British businessmen to ignore humanitarian concerns and profit from the highly lucrative military occupation of Tamil lands and seas. British companies are building hundreds of bridges in the north and east of Sri Lanka to connect new settlements of Sinhalese soldiers and their families. UK-listed corporations are exploring deep-water oil & gas reserves off the west coast of Sri Lanka. Tamil farmers and fishermen are being displaced by the Sri Lankan Army and Navy to facilitate a ‘land grab’ by foreign investors. The Conservative Ministers, MPs and Peers who defend the Sri Lankan Government do so because they are in bed with these companies.

Every UKBA plane that lands in Colombo terrorises Tamil dissidents in the diaspora. UKBA charter flights are a strong-arm tactic designed to intimidate immigrant communities who pose a threat to the power structure. Charter flights restrict migrants’ access to legal help, and involve logistical arrangements described as “inhumane” by a cross-party Parliamentary group. The secretive aircraft and coach companies which profit from transporting immigration detainees to their final destinations are nothing more than torture taxis.

Still, persistent resistance from the grassroots is making the British Establishment think twice about sending Tamils back to their persecutors.

A court case began this month about the UKBA’s country guidance on Sri Lanka. The hearing is adjourned until the end of the month. How can the UKBA proceed with another charter flight before a ruling has been made?

We demand that deportations to Sri Lanka end immediately.

Signatories so far include:

Stop Deportation Network

SOAS Detainee Support Group

Croydon Migrant Solidarity

Campaign Against Criminalising Communities

Hands Off Somalia

We ask concerned groups and individuals to add their names to the list of supporters – email stopdeportation[at]riseup.net

Please send it out to your friends, networks, anyone that might be interested.

You can also write to your local MP and the Home Secretary to protest against the flight.

Rt Hon Theresa May MP
House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA
Tel: 020 72195206
Fax: 020 7219 1145
mayt@parliament.uk

Minister denies torture of Tamils deported from Britain – New Internationalist

Minister denies torture of Tamils deported from Britain – New Internationalist

A British Foreign Office Minister has refuted medical evidence obtained by Human Rights Watch that Sri Lanka is torturing Tamils after they are deported from Britain back to the Indian Ocean island. During his most recent ministerial trip to Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, on 1 February, Alistair Burt MP said ‘the UK has no direct evidence’ of the torture – contrary to the accusations of human rights activists.

To continue reading the article on the New Internationalist Blog, click here

Alistair Burt and High Commissioner John Rankin recorded a video in front of the wrecked MV Farah III, during the Minister's latest trip to Sri Lanka

Alistair Burt and British High Commissioner John Rankin recorded a video in front of the wrecked MV Farah III, during the Minister’s latest trip to Sri Lanka. (Photo: FCO)