The UK government is pushing ahead with its decision to forcibly return dozens of Jamaicans living in the UK on a flight scheduled for Tuesday 11 February.
The government has defended its decision despite last-minute legal challenges by people due to be on board, and concerns that Windrush citizens could be among those removed. The flight will see up to 50 people deported, and is only the second the Home Office has chartered to Jamaica since the Windrush Scandal broke.
Last week more than 100 cross-party MPs and peers signed a Labour-led letter to Boris Johnson calling for the flight to be postponed until the recommendations from the review into Windrush have been published.
The letter, authored by the new Labour MP Nadia Whittome and Diane Abbott, the Shadow Home Secretary, said:
“Not only is there an unacceptable risk of removing anyone with a potential Windrush claim, but there has been a failure by the government to remedy the causes of the Windrush scandal.”
The letter also cited concerns about the potential deportees’ access to legal advice and mobile phones, and how many had been in the UK since they were children.
The Home Office has not responded to recommendations from the former prisons ombudsman Stephen Shaw, nor to a leak from the ‘Windrush Lessons Learned’ review, which suggested that foreign national offenders who have lived in the UK since the age of 13 – or for most of their life – should not face automatic deportation.
When asked about the flight, Rishi Sunak, the chief secretary to the Treasury, said: “All due process will have been followed…The people on this plane are people who have committed very serious crimes, whether it’s rape, manslaughter, murder.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “The planned charter flight to Jamaica is specifically for removing foreign criminals. Those detained for removal include people convicted of manslaughter, rape, violent crime and dealing class-A drugs.”
However, not all of those due to be on the flight have committed such serious crimes, and many have only committed one offence. Speaking to Sky News, Labour MP David Lammy said he knew of eight deportees convicted of non-violent offences, and nine with minor drug offences.
The Guardian conducted interviews with thirteen of those due to be on flight and were told that, should the deportations go ahead, they will be leaving behind dozens of young children between them.
In response to Sunak’s comments, David Lammy MP said:
“They are depriving 41 children of their parents. Many of these young men have children. What will happen to them?”
Many have lived in the UK since childhood and there are also legitimate fears that their lives will be at risk if they are returned to Jamaica.
Last year, it was revealed that at least five men had been murdered following their deportation to Jamaica. One of these people was Dewayne Robinson and it has now emerged that Akeen Finlay, Robinsons cousin is one of those facing enforced return on Tuesday following a GBH conviction.
Months after Robinson’s murder, another of Finlay’s cousins was murdered. Finlay has said:
“The men involved in the murders of my cousins have warned our family not to return to Jamaica or we will be murdered too,”
Karen Doyle, of the Movement for Justice campaign group has also condemned the Charter flight. “The human cost of this charter flight will be immense,” she said. “The detainees have families and children and want to get on with their lives. These charter flights must stop.”