The last few weeks have proved a shocking reminder of Britain’s cruel detention and deportation regime.

In the early hours of Tuesday 10 February, a charter flight took off to Jamaica, deporting men who had been here since infancy, and who were more British than foreign.

Just hours later, chilling footage emerged which shows a group of guards violently assaulting a rape survivor, known as CA.

And this weekend revealed the abuse of Lionel, who is partially sighted and partially deaf, who spent four days in agony after detention centre staff refused to take him to hospital for treatment on his ankle. When he was finally taken to hospital, an x-ray showed his ankle is broken in four places.

This brutality is all too common. And it is not a design flaw – it is the inevitable conclusion of a system which treats people as less than human.

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Hidden brutality

The horrific violence faced by CA is not a one-off. Abuse of immigration detainees in detention and at the point of removal is widespread – we’ve seen it from the Brook House scandal to the death of Jimmy Mubenga.

Most of this brutality goes on behind closed doors. What happens on charter flights and in immigration detention is notoriously secretive and opaque, taking place away from public scrutiny and in the middle of the night. 

The government is anxious to to keep this grim reality a secret, and to prevent those who are affected by this system from speaking out to seek justice.

Just hours before the flight to Jamaica was due to take off, the courts ruled that it would be unlawful to remove people who hadn’t had access to lawyers and this led to 56 people being pulled off the flight. This is by no means the “due process” Ministers claimed had occurred, and there are always serious concerns about access to justice for those in detention.

In the case of CA, her distress was caused because it was unclear whether or not she was supposed to be on a charter flight - a common experience when access to lawyers is limited due to legal aid cuts and private companies run the show.

Moreover, if people in detention are unable to access a lawyer, and denied justice, then there is no telling whether their removal is wrongful, particularly as the Home Office refuses to monitor what happens to people after a flight has left. 

Branding people as ‘foreign criminals’

The framing of those facing deportation has been skewed by the government, who consistently referred to those on the flight as 'serious' criminals.

We know that many of the people who were considered liable for deportation had single offences and had not re-offended in the years since their sentences were served. Some were avid campaigners, some carers for their disabled partners and some were simply trying to move on with their lives. Whilst those with a British passport who commit the same crimes are allowed to rehabilitate, those with the 'wrong' documentation are punished twice for the same crime.

This country prides itself on giving people equal treatment before the law - and that must extend to treating people equally once they’ve served their sentences.

Lessons not learned

The Windrush Scandal underlined how this system works in practice when it made headlines in 2018, particularly as it revealed the wrongful detention and deportation of commonwealth citizens.

In the aftermath of that scandal, the government commissioned Wendy Williams to oversee an independent “Lessons Learned Review” which they said would ensure that a scandal of this nature would never happen again.

Two years on, the deportation flight to Jamaica shows us that this was a false promise. Not only are we still waiting for the publication of that review, but leaked copies clearly show that wide reform of the Home Office is needed. In a damning assessment, Wendy Williams herself describes the culture in the Home Office as deaf and defensive, and unwilling to learn from past mistakes. 

And yet the government is repeating the same mistakes by chartering this flight to Jamaica, despite the fact that the people on the flight had either lived in the UK since they were children or have been here for the better part of their lives.

This system must be dismantled

It was the Windrush scandal which really brought the everyday brutality of immigration detention and removal to light. The case of CA once again shows us the very real consequences of a political class which weaponises the language of walls and fences, and passes laws intended to punish people for simply existing.

The fact that this flight has gone ahead without the formal publication of the Lessons Learned Review means that the government’s apologies to the Windrush generation are nothing but lip service.

And now that the public has borne witness to the brutality of the system, there can be no doubt in anyone’s mind: it’s time to scrap the hostile environment, it’s time to end immigration detention, and deportations must be stopped.   

Nadia Whittome MP has tabled a motion calling for the release of the report and implementation of its recommendations in full. Please ask your MP today to add their name to the campaign, and bring an end to the brutal detention and deportation system.

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