‘Sit down protest’ delayed deportation of Tamil refugees at risk of torture

Sit-in stopped deportation of Tamil refugees at risk of torture

[1st June 2012]

A spontaneous sit-down protest in front of an airport-bound deportation coach may have won enough time for a last-minute High Court ruling, which cancelled the enforced removal of about 40 ‘failed’ Tamil asylum-seekers.

Friends, family and local community activists staged a 30 minute sit-down protest in front of Tamil deportation coach

A defiant protest by supporters of Tamil refugees outside Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) yesterday morning delayed the departure of an airport-bound deportation bus, but ended with 4 arrests. Their action provided extra time for Barristers to win injunctions from the High Court, which cancelled the deportation of about 40 people. One gentleman was already seated aboard the aircraft with the engine running when news came through that his removal was stayed.

Two large coaches loaded with deportation guards had arrived at Colnbrook IRC at 8.20am. A dozen friends and family members of deportees gathered from 9am for an emotional farewell vigil outside the detention centre. Supporters had reason to believe that some of the people due to be deported would be tortured by the Sri Lankan government on return. Their claim is supported by several new reports – available here:

When the first coach tried to exit Colnbrook at 11 am, supporters spontaneously ran out in front of the coach in protest at the deportation. Several people sat in the road and the coach driver turned off the engine. The second coach was able to exit the detention centre.

Security staff and police were challenged about their awareness of the human rights situation in Sri Lanka – protestors brandished copies of Freedom From Torture’s report into ongoing torture in Sri Lanka and asked them if they had watched Channel 4’s ‘Killing Fields’ documentary, which none of them had. Protestors also reminded the most senior police officer at the scene, Inspector Qasim, of Britain’s obligations under Article 3 of the UN Convention Against Torture (“No State Party shall expel, return (“refouler”) or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture”).

More police were called to the scene, including a dog unit and a firearms officer, in what felt like an attempt to intimidate the small group of a dozen supporters. The police did not facilitate freedom of assembly and expression under Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, instead they decided to stop people from protesting at 11.30 am. Police forcibly cleared protestors from the road, without making it clear what section of the Public Order Act they were enforcing. 2 protestors were aggressively handcuffed, and another 2 by-standers were randomly placed under arrest. The coach then left for the airport, and the arrested protestors were taken to West Drayton Police Station.

They were held in custody for almost 12 hours before being released: 2 without charge, 2 on minor charges.

This 30-minute delay may have been crucial for Barristers to win injunctions in the British High Court of Justice which prevent many people from being deported. Mr Justice Eady seemed to vindicate the protestors with his ruling that “the recent Human Rights Watch report, dated 29.05.2012 suggests that there may be new evidence relevant to the risk of ill treatment”. Channel 4 explained that: “The Human Rights Watch report in question called on the government to suspend the planned deportations in light of 13 cases it had documented of failed Tamil asylum seekers being tortured by the security forces on return to Sri Lanka, most recently in February this year”. Yesterday’s flight was the fifth British government charter flight to Sri Lanka since June last year.

Sources at Colombo Airport claim that 36 people were deported (22 Tamils,8 Sinhaleese and 6 Muslims), accompanied by 72 British officials, and interviewed on arrival by the notorious Sri Lankan C.I.D. It is standard practice for the UK Border Agency to employ at least 2 private security guards from the firm ‘Reliance’ for each deportee.

There are more videos of yesterdays protest which will be published at some point.


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
Email –

Blockade fails to stop mass deportation of Tamil refugees

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.