Charter flights to repression

In November 2008, Immigration Minister Phil Woolas boasted that the government is deporting immigrants at a rate of one every eight minutes. To achieve this, it is making increasing use of charter flight mass deportations. Many of these have been to northern Iraq. On 17 September 2008, 52 Kurdish asylum seekers, who had physically resisted being put on a flight two days before, were deported from Stansted airport. On 27 October, another 50 were deported. On 15 December, 46 people were deported on a Hamburg International flight via Germany. One of the deportees was taken off the plane and sent back to Britain, after wounding himself with scissors. In January 2009, another 25 people were deported.

There were charter flight deportations to Jamaica in December 2007 and March 2008, and in January 2009 the government began mass deportation to Sri Lanka. There has been increasing discussion of co-ordinated EU deportations and the EU border police agency Frontex is already organising operations such as the charter to Lagos in July 2008, which collected 41 people from nine countries, including Ireland, France and Spain.

The precise number of charter flight deportations is not known. Up until 2007, the government disclosed figures in response to parliamentary questions or Freedom of Information Act requests but is now refusing to do so, stating the information is ‘commercially sensitive’. Presumably this means it is embarrassed about the cost incurred and wants to protect airlines involved from becoming the target of campaigns in the way the now defunct XL Airways did after it deported 40 adults and children to Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in February 2007.

The British government has been using charter flight deportations since 2001. Up until the end of January 2006, 12,956 people had been removed on 320 flights and in the following year (February 2006-January 2007) there were 64 flights; the majority of them part of Operation Aardvark (51 flights removing 1,267 people to east European countries) and Operation Ravel (11 flights taking 259 people to Afghanistan).

Following the 2007 flight to Kinshasa, there have not been any mass deportations to DRC, mainly due to a protracted legal challenge to the ‘Country Guidance’ used by immigration tribunals in cases regarding that country. This process has now been exhausted and deportations look set to resume. At the end of January 2009, the Congo Support Project issued a warning that ‘good sources’ had informed it that the Migration Directorate from Kinshasa was due to visit London to sign up to a British government plan to ‘repatriate’ over 4,000 Congolese people.

Although it is attempting to keep specifics, such as cost and planned flights, under wraps, the government is keen to boast of having effected successful mass deportations. Deporting ‘illegal immigrants’ and ‘failed asylum seekers’ en masse makes it look tough and assists in maintaining the imperialist myth that countries it has occupied militarily, like Iraq and Afghanistan, or plundered for their resources, like DRC, are safe. Deportations on routine flights have not stopped, but protests against airlines which carry out removals and the reactions of travellers who find their fellow passengers are refusing to board or screaming until they are taken off planes have rendered carrying deportees on standard flights far less popular with airlines.
Opposition to charter flight deportations must be stepped up and co-ordinated, so that resisting any flight becomes the task of all anti-racist campaigners, not just of those concerned with the specific country.

Fight all deportations!
Nicki Jameson

FRFI 207 February / March 2009

 

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