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.

Embassy Boss Ambushed Over Mass Deportation Of Nigerians

Embassy Boss Ambushed Over Mass Deportation Of Nigerians

Nigerian High Commissioner in London turned his back on deportees today (8/12/2011).

High Commissioner Dr Tafida ignored calls from protesters to stop a mass deportation of up to 70 Nigerians from London to Lagos, scheduled for the evening.

Angry demonstrators ambushed Dr Tafida when he walked outside to bid farewell to guests. They demanded he stop tonight’s flight as aides rushed him back inside.

Britain needs Nigeria’s consent to deport its citizens. Eight members of the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) work at the luxurious High Commission building in Central London. NIS staff confirm the nationality of detainees who the UK Border Agency (UKBA) want to deport to Nigeria by conducting interviews inside immigration prisons where they assess their accent and facial features.

Nigerians who work without permission can be arrested. The UKBA raids work places and (unlawfully) spot-checks people in the street who it suspects as ‘illegal immigrants‘. A six-month prison sentence is standard, followed by an indefinite period of detention in an ‘Immigration Removal Centre’ while the UKBA organises their deportation.

A Zimbabwean woman was detained for almost 2 years and regularly interviewed by NIS staff. Eventually, they accepted she was not Nigerian and the UKBA released her.

The High Commission claims “to protect the national interests of Nigeria within the United Kingdom”. However, migrant groups say their dignity is disrespected by the Embassy because it collaborates in their deportation. Some have built up considerable lives in the UK and are forced to leave it all behind.

Mass deportation ‘charter flights’ are particularly controversial. In August 2010 the UK expelled 124 Nigerians, including 10 children, on a single flight.

Six Nigerians have died during deportations from Europe – the highest number of fatalities from any one nationality. Last year Nigerian man Joseph Ndukadu Chiakwa died on a mass deportation from Switzerland. The UK Border Agency (UKBA) has code-named its charter flights ‘Operation Majestic’ and used coaches branded ‘Just Go’ to drive deportees to the airport. On average each flight costs £150,000 of public money.

Campaigners say the UKBA has stopped using commercial flights to deport Nigerians. Instead private aircraft are chartered every 42 days for a collective expulsion. This comes after Immigration Authorities were embarrassed by the death of an Angolan deportee at the back of a British Airways flight in full sight of other passengers, some of whom spoke out to the media.

Protesters have started to target the Nigerian High Commission because they see it as a weak link in the deportation regime: “British politicians brag to the tabloid press about how many people they deport. But Embassy staff here are embarrassed to help these deportations and want to keep their involvement quiet. Nigerian consent is crucial for deportations to happen. The Iraqi Parliament ended deportations from Europe overnight in October when it refused to accept any more deportees”.

A refugee rights group in Germany claim Nigerian Embassy Staff there take a €500 bribe for every Nigerian they help deport. The ‘Voice Baden Württemberg’ said: “For each candidate interviewed the Nigerian embassy gets €250 and another €250 for issued travelling certificate”.

The UKBA is planning a mass deportation to Sri Lanka on Thursday 15th December. ‘Freedom From Torture’ has published new evidence of ongoing torture of Tamils by the Sri Lankan government.

“Just Go!” A Final Slap for the Unwanted: Britain’s Immigration Shame

“Just Go!” A Final Slap for the Unwanted: Britain’s Immigration Shame

By Deportation Watch

Anti-deportation campaigners watched in despair last Wednesday night as almost 20 women were forcibly taken to the airport to be removed from the UK aboard a bus branded ‘Just Go!’.

They were driven from Yarl’s Wood immigration prison to join a mass deportation of over 50 Nigerians. Some still had outstanding appeals against deportation.

“It’s sinister for the Border Agency to use a coach plastered in ‘Just go!’ stickers when deporting people,” said a campaigner, adding: “Surely a bureaucrat somewhere realised that was woefully insensitive.”

Some of the women on the flight had lived in the UK for over 20 years and were respected pillars of their community. Now they will be on the street in Lagos likely with nowhere to go, few belongings and ‘their lives in tatters’, according to supporters. “This is a disgusting and racist way to treat humans,” said the activist.

The bus company ‘JustGo’ claims to offer ‘interesting and rewarding excursions’ to a range of locations in the UK and Europe. One-way travel to Nigeria is not advertised. Just Go chief executive Luis Arteaga could not be reached for comment.

Mass deportations to Nigeria occur bi-monthly.  The UK’s Border Agency refers to these collective expulsions as ‘Operation Majestic’. Planes typically leave London late at night with two private guards flanking each detainee.

While removal decisions are made by the Government and courts, the logistics of forcibly deporting people are handled by an army of private companies. Campaigners recorded the involvement of at least seven other private contractors during the deportations.

The coach from Yarl’s Wood was tailed by three ‘Reliance’ prison vans. On arrival at Stansted, the deportation convoy entered the ‘Inflite Jet Centre’, an exclusive terminal for private aircraft. The women were kept waiting on the coach for several hours inside a fenced compound while corporate executives arrived in luxury limousines and sped through a nearby entrance to board VIP flights. Four more coaches were seen inside the compound, two from ‘WH Tours’, one from ‘Woodcock Coaches’ and the one from ‘Just Go!’

Detention centres are also run by private contractors, such as Serco, G4S and GEO. The only evidence of state involvement in the expulsion was a single Ford Focus with a small ‘UKBA’ sticker on the door.

“The State’s monopoly on violence has been farmed out to gangs of eager mercenaries. Watching the reality of a mass deportation makes the right-wing claim that ‘migrants take our jobs’ even harder to swallow. What we saw was hundreds of burly white men being employed to kick out half as many black people,” said an eyewitness, adding: “They expelled them from a country of relative economic prosperity to one riddled with severe poverty. Several large companies oversaw the process. Many of them are headquartered in the UK. We saw the deportation industry at work – it’s a major, profitable business venture”.

Earlier that day, angry protests had erupted outside the Nigerian high commission as activists denounced Nigerian government complicity in forced removals of immigration prisoners.

The demonstration had been called for by some of the women detained at Yarl’s Wood. They had hoped that an eleventh hour protest would “shame diplomatic staff into withdrawing their consent for the deportation”.

A spokesperson for the protesters said: “The women are put on the planes only due to the generous collaboration of the Nigerian authorities, which reportedly sends an official from the mission to issue detainees with emergency travel documents”.

Staff at the high commission promised that a representative of the Nigerian immigration service would address the crowd – they never appeared.

One Nigerian bystander at the commission protest had first-hand experience of a similar mass deportation from Ireland to Nigeria. She described the Nigerian government as “useless,” adding that they: “Allow it [deportations] to happen.” Nigerian officials are understood to assist British authorities with mass deportations by issuing travel documents in return for cash payments and other sweeteners.

Though no resistance was reported inside Yarl’s Wood on this occasion, one of the detainees facing deportation said, “Everyone is scared…it’s just too much.” Yarl’s Wood managers allegedly warned every detainee set to be removed that resistance would be “dealt with harshly”.

“Deportees are dehumanised throughout. They’re robbed of their personalities as soon as they encounter the authorities. They’re immediately reduced to ‘illegal immigrants’. This makes it OK for them to be detained in immigration prisons for years,” said another eyewitness, adding: “They have become mere files. Sat in boxes. Trapped in a warehouse, while a paperwork battle rages to decide their future. Finally a decision is made, and the boxes are shipped to the airport, flown far away and literally dumped in a foreign cargo terminal. It’s staggering how clinical the whole process was – humanity was nowhere to be seen”.

Mass deportation flights have become a preferred way of removing migrants to poorer and more dangerous areas en masse.  They are intended to save money though also keep deportations outside the public gaze.

“While every removal flight violates individuals’ rights to freedom of movement, charter flights are widely seen as a particularly sordid method,” said a journalist acquainted with one of the women on the flight, adding: “On top of the trauma and hardship caused by deportation, the flights further rob asylum seekers of their rights, taking away one last avenue of appeal – the flying public.”

“The emphasis of mass deportations is on filling the flight and ‘getting rid of as many, as soon as possible,” said one member of Soas’ detainee support group.

Five women were given last-minute reprieves when they were removed from the airport bound coaches at Yarl’s Wood, according to DeportationWatch.

The removal and protest come on the back of the anniversary of the death of Jimmy Mubenga who died while he was being restrained by guards on a removal flight last year.   A report issued last month after prison inspectors accompanied two flights showed that dangerous behaviour among guards has not stopped.

“Inspectors were very concerned at the highly offensive and sometimes racist language they heard staff use between themselves,” said chief inspector of prisons Nick Hardwick.

The report sharply criticised the use of handcuffs on detainees “who appeared upset, or who were moving too slowly, despite there being no signs of any violent behaviour which might have justified the use of such restraints”.

Inspectors blamed a lack of training for the violations. Lawyers have long argued the use of excessive force by private contractors to restrain detainees could be a violation of basic human rights.

One immigration detainee described how her friend was “beaten and handcuffed” before being bundled into a prison van “like a terrorist”.

She also recounted the story of a woman who was allegedly pushed up against a wall and thrown to the floor by a Serco employee for asking to have her bottle of water filled. “There is a culture of fear and intimidation,” she said, adding: “Everyone is shying away from talking.”

Human Rights Watch said in 2009 that Nigerian security forces: “Continued to commit extrajudicial killings, torture, and extortion. Intercommunal and political violence, often fomented by powerful politicians, claimed hundreds of lives.” Despite this, British authorities routinely dismiss humanitarian and political asylum cases from Nigeria as ‘unfounded’.

Evidence of torture has previously been ignored as in one case where a decision on asylum was reached before a medical assessment which proved that the detainee had been brutally tortured in Nigeria.

One detainee says she believes the treatment of illegal immigrants like her has deteriorated since David Cameron’s call at the Conservative party conference for members of the public to denounce those suspected of being in the UK illegally to the authorities. “They don’t want us here – they are being racist,” she said.

The Home Office could not be reached for comment.

The deportation referred to in this article took place on 26 October 2011 from London, UK to Lagos, Nigeria
Additional reporting by Soas Detainee Support: soas_detainee_support[AT]