Liberty Without Borders

by Helen Brewer

They have taken everyone they want to take. They are in segregation. I can only give you a picture of what has happened to our friend.

There were loads of officers, I couldn’t count how many. Male officers too. And she was naked. She had a pink nighty, very short short short, up over her. And they handcuffed her hands behind her back and pulled them up to her neck. They were punching her on her side. She was crying and we were screaming “This is how you treat people?!”

The centre manager Jacki, she said she doesn’t care if they want to take her back to Nigeria. When they wanted to manhandle my friend they tell me to leave. Jacki, she told me to leave the room, she said “This is my centre”, and I said “I am a visitor in this room and I am not going anywhere”.

Another officer was bullying her and shouting at our friend when they were trying to remove her.

They were trying to shut me up too.

She has a JR (Judicial Review) in.

 The flight is tonight at 23:30, from an army base. That is what they do: it isn’t in the proper airport, it is at the cargo bit of the airport or at an army base.

I’m tired of this trauma. I’ve been through too much trauma. I’m tired. I’m here and they won’t be able to get the travel documents to move me. They won’t be able to get it.

 Nothing can help you in this place. It is too much. Trauma upon trauma upon trauma.

Nearly a year to the day after 15 people locked-on to stop a secret deportation charter flight to Nigeria and Ghana, the same plane left carrying deportees forced against their will. Women and men were dragged screaming, shouting, handcuffed, from their cages in a detention prison, beaten and violently restrained, to a private plane specially arranged for mass-removal. Deported to a country they may fear out of persecution, or have no family or other connection to.

Mass deportations are the Home Office’s outsourced practise of rounding people up by their perceived nationality, detaining them, and using violent force to transport them to another country in secrecy. Deportations are yet another weapon in the arsenal of social control. People are regularly deported to a host of countries on commercial flights; while Eastern Europeans continue to be top targets, deporting people under the Dublin Agreement, mass deportations expose an insidious link to Britain’s former colonies, such as Nigeria, Jamaica and Pakistan. Many immigrants in the UK live in the constant fear of detention and deportation, often stuck in the arduous and expensive process of legalising their status.

The success of individual resistances onboard commercial deportation flights lead to the use of charter flights or ‘ghost flights’. These flights are bulk-booked in advance and the seats need to be filled. This results in people being unlawfully deported regardless of where their case has got to, or in finding dubious reasons to refuse people permission to stay.

For every charter flight deportation there may be multiple raids in communities, homes and workplaces. Multiple coaches transport deportees from detention centres to airports. At least two Tascor security vans accompany each bus-load, as part of a billion pound contract. Profiting from these flights to Nigeria and Ghana is Titan Airways. During one flight in 2016, one deportee who was clearly unfit to fly, having survived a brain operation, was taken to the plane in an ambulance. This shocking treatment of deportees serves to prove that deportations are steeped in an ideological prerogative to satisfy their target-driven culture. People are reduced to a body count, mere cargo.

Following the direct action at Stansted airport, the state responded by further militarising the route; we now know that charter flights to Nigeria and Ghana have left from military bases or from smaller airports hidden from view. To prevent further action, the Home Office no longer notifies people of their charter flight departure times. Deportees are driven around for hours on end, or held indiscriminately to confuse and disorientate them, making it harder to pinpoint when and where they are leaving from. The more the deportation charter flight operation gets securitised and camouflaged, the more the state implicitly concedes it’s shameful.

Deportation charter flights are the sharp-end of the UK immigration system. Individuals are violently handled, traumatised, and handcuffed while bundle onto a secret ghost planes; however, we should also remember that so-called ‘voluntary returns’ – which over the years have increased because it is a far cheaper method for the Home Office to facilitate – are enforced through systemic violence inflicted on the daily lives of people by withdrawing public services and pushing families and communities to the brink in any way possible. The hostile environment is linked to the racist trope, peddled by the media, of “black criminality”; it reinforces policing in certain communities and feeds into Operation Nexus, a program where police hand over people who they think they can deport to the Home Office – who are intent in pursuing a target-driven policy borne of a shameful neo-colonial agenda.

All of the UK’s 13 ‘immigration removal centres’, or detention prisons, are run by corporations, who run massive profits from a designed system of misery. Outside of the UK, the state continues to invest in oppressive infrastructure. The Foreign Office has plans for a multi-million pound prison wing to be built at the Nigerian Kiri Kiri prison. When so little is known about the harm that comes to people who have been removed from the UK, one can only imagine that imprisonment upon arrival to a strange country would be the cruellest of punishments. Many lose contact once they arrive, penniless, traumatised and alone.

With an abolitionist perspective we can take on a system that readily adapts to disruption. The Windrush Scandal provided a rare opportunity for the public to reflect on the violence of our immigration system. It reminded us of the human cost of the anti-immigrant politics cultivated by all modern governments and culminating in the hostile environment. By arguing against the deportation of some communities but not others, we end up exacerbating the false dichotomy between the good migrant and the bad migrant. Our solidarity cannot be conditional. If you believe, like we do, that no human should be caged, then we need to work against all cages…

 Helen Brewer is a campaigner with End Deportations. She is one of 15 people who face trial in Chelmsford Crown Court on October 1st. The Stansted 15 have been charged with a terrorist related offence and face life imprisonment.


Artwork by Illustre Feccia & Hogre

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