The state is now criminalising activists who tried to stop a racist deportation flight

A protest outside a court over the trial of protesters who blocked a Jamaica deportation flight
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On Tuesday 30 May, the trial begins of three protesters who tried to stop a government deportation flight to Jamaica. The controversial flight caused uproar at the time – but thanks to the actions of lawyers and campaigners, the Home Office hardly managed to deport anyone. However, activists are now paying the price for defending people’s basic human rights. 

Government deportation flights have rightly caused outrage in recent years. The Home Office runs these when it claims people are not British citizens, and sometimes when they’ve committed a crime. However, many of the people the government tries to deport have lived in the UK most of their lives. One particular flight in November 2021 summed up the scandal.

Deportation flights in the spotlight

SOAS Detainee Support is an abolitionist activist group. It supports people facing deportation. In November 2021, it was involved in protests against a flight to Jamaica. The government claimed the people it was deporting were “foreign national offenders” with “no right to be in the UK”. But SOAS Detainee Support tells a different story.

It said in a press release that:

The deportation flight to Jamaica in November 2021 was initially intended to carry as many as 50 people. They included a 20-year-old woman who had been in the country since she was 13 and has no relatives in Jamaica. Three allegedly had direct Windrush connections through grandparents or other older relatives.

At least ten had come to Britain aged 16 or younger, and five had come at 10 or younger. Nine of them had been in the UK for 20 years or longer. Many of them have British children, and up to 24 children would have lost their fathers had the flight left with all intended.

In the build-up to this flight on 9 November 2021, three protestors locked on to each other using metal pipes on a road outside the Brook House Immigration Removal Centre. In the end, just four people boarded the flight from Birmingham airport, from an original list of more than 50. So the protests as well as legal issues stopped most of the government’s planned deportations.

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But now, some protesters are facing the wrath of the state. 

Protesters: penalised for defending human rights

SOAS Detainee Support said in a press release that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has:

charged [three protesters] with causing a public nuisance for blocking a road outside Brook House Immigration Removal Centre at Gatwick Airport in November 2021 to prevent people being forcibly removed on a flight to Jamaica. They will be tried by a jury, with the trial listed for seven days.

They have crowdfunded almost £20,000 to support the costs of their case, with more than 750 people donating.

The trial of these three protestors is taking place as the government cracks down further not only on the right to protest, but on people’s right to asylum, too. For example, as the Canary recently reported, the Public Order Act coupled with the Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts (PCSC) Act will effectively allow police to stop all sorts of protest actions:

The new Public Order Act powers include penalties of a year in custody for blocking roads, railways and airports. In addition, protesters who use the tactic of locking-on could face up to six months in prison.

At the same time, the racist Nationality and Borders Act and the 2023 Illegal Migration Bill are entrenching the Tories’ hostile environment for Black, brown, and foreign-born people. 

Fighting back against the government

However, people are fighting back. On Saturday 27 May, thousands of people protested in London over the Public Order Act:

Meanwhile, groups like Stop Deportations continue to fight the government’s racist agendas. Stop Deportations is supporting the three protesters on trial:

A spokesperson for the group said:

Blocking Brook House detention centre prevented people from being violently and cruelly taken away from their families and loved ones on a deportation flight. Many of those who were due to be deported to Jamaica arrived in the UK as children and have family here, including children of their own, some had Windrush connections and some are potential trafficking survivors. They did not receive proper legal advice or time to challenge their deportation, so direct action was necessary to prevent it.

The government is now aggressively trying to suppress opposition and scare people from protesting and similar direct action by charging three people with such serious offences.

Blocking the immigration detention centre condemns not only this charter flight but also seeks to show solidarity with all those locked in detention centres, subject to deportations and otherwise oppressed by racist border controls.

On the racism inherent in forced deportations, they added:

We reject the legitimacy of the entire deportation regime. It is premised on racist notions of racialised people – from their disproportionate treatment in the criminal injustice system to their demonisation by the Home Office.

Racist borders, racist governments

Overall, it is shocking yet predictable that the state would criminalise protesters who were defending people from its racist attacks on their human rights. SOAS Detainee Support said in a press release:

The three blockaders should be praised, not prosecuted, for taking direct action to prevent a racist charter flight. Deportations destroy lives, tear families apart, and instill fear in our communities. If they are convicted, it will be a dark day for migrants in the UK – and for anyone who believes in the right to dissent against a government that is determined to divide, impoverish and disempower ordinary people.

Against the backdrop of legislation designed to dismantle the remains of the asylum system, acts of resistance and solidarity will only become more urgent and necessary.

So, not only is the government hell-bent on upholding neo-colonialist, white supremacist policies – it will also criminalise anyone who opposes them. While this isn’t new, in the case of the ‘Brook House Three’ it is particularly insidious, given the deportation flight was largely a failure, anyway.

The trial will last around seven days. You can donate to the crowdfunder for the defendants here.

Featured image via Stop Deportations

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