Eighty-two black public figures have written to airlines who have worked on deportation charter flights urging them not to carry up to 50 Jamaicans the Home Office wants to deport next week.
Signatories include the author Bernardine Evaristo, model Naomi Campbell, historian David Olusoga and actors Naomie Harris and Thandie Newton, as well as lawyers, broadcasters and NGO chiefs. Leading Windrush campaigners including Michael Braithwaite and Elwaldo Romeo have also signed. The letter has been sent to six airlines known to have previously worked with the Home Office on deportation charter flights.
It urges the airline chiefs to refuse to operate the flight on 2 December, the second Jamaica deportation flight this year, if they have been approached by the Home Office to do so, and to pause the operation of deportation flights to Commonwealth countries for the foreseeable future.
They are calling on airlines that have previously operated these flights for the Home Office to state publicly that they will not operate next week’s flight. It is not known which airline the Home Office has engaged for it.
Any airline that has agreed to transport the Jamaicans earmarked for deportation is urged to reconsider its position and to communicate this to government and the wider public.
The public figures warned that if next week’s and other similar flights go ahead there is a risk of the unlawful removal of people who have the right to remain in the UK.
One of the men deported from the UK to Jamaica on a charter flight in February 2020 was the grandson of a woman who arrived on the Empire Windrush and is still seeking to have his deportation order revoked.
They added that the recent resignation of Alexandra Ankrah, the most senior black civil servant working on the Windrush compensation scheme, calls into question the Home Office’s competency to deal with the continuing injustices it has created.
Concern is also expressed by the signatories about the fate of victims of trafficking.
“The UK’s system for identifying victims of trafficking is in disarray, meaning that the government frequently seeks to deport people whose offences occurred by reason of their trafficking or forced labour,” the letter stated.
It warned that some of those already detained and due to be deported on 2 December have physical scars and further evidence of being subjected to ill-treatment, or have had siblings killed in Jamaica, which puts them at grave risk if removed from the UK.
“In an already challenging festive period … we ask you to reflect on whether the operation of this flight would comply with your corporate social responsibility values,” it stated.
There is precedent for airlines ceasing to cooperate with the Home Office. In June 2018 Virgin Airlines announced that it would no longer be assisting the Home Office to deport people in the wake of the Windrush scandal.
“We made the decision to end all involuntary deportations on our network, and have already informed the Home Office. We believe this decision is in the best interest of our customers and people, and is in keeping with our values as a company,” the airline said in a statement at the time.
The Home Office said: “We make no apology for seeking to remove dangerous foreign criminals to keep the public safe. Each week we remove foreign criminals from the UK to different countries who have no right to be here, this flight is no different. The people being detained for this flight include convicted murderers and rapists.”