"...it is up to the airlines to refuse to comply with mass deportation flights."Rui Miguel / Wikimedia Commons

At 1am on the 2nd of December, the Home Office forcibly deported 13 people to Jamaica in shackles. 37 of the intended “Jamaica 50” were granted a reprieve after successful legal challenges, with the Home Office admitting that some of the intended may be victims of trafficking. When that many are discharged it is impossible to view the deportation flights as a mistake. Instead, they are a tool in a system designed for racism and xenophobia - the same system that produced Windrush, which I believe was not an anomaly.

“Criminality not nationality” is Priti Patel’s justification for the flight. This is also what many argue is the difference between the Windrush scandal and the recent deportation flights in February and December. The victims of the former were members of the Windrush generation stripped of their citizenship, an unjust act because it was them and their ancestors who sustained the British economy. In contrast, the victims of the recent flight are deemed “serious foreign offenders″. However, I don’t see a plane full of Britain’s most heinous criminals, because the disproportionate rate of arrests for Black Britons is socially determined. It is largely the product of a racist justice system, of which we are more conscious of now more than ever. As well as Black and Asian areas being predominantly overpoliced, Black people are more likely to be convicted and Black offenders more harshly sentenced. Therefore, they easily exceed the “more than 12 months sentence” required to be put on a deportation flight. The myth of Black criminality is just that – a myth – but even if a crime is committed by a Black person and we ignore the existence of a racist justice system, the crime is still inherently tied to Britain’s unaddressed legacy of colonialism and slavery. Just like wealth is inherited, poverty is also.

“The label of “criminal” is a convenient way for the government to individualise structural issues and shift the responsibility...”

Thus, where the Conservative government sees criminals, I see Black people whose lives and criminality have been shaped by a prism of intersecting forms of oppression, primarily those of racism and classism. I see a young Black boy groomed by a gang and forced to sell drugs, the months he spent in detention centres only creating further trauma. His life was the polar opposite of the privileged one led by Boris Johnson, who was funnelled from Eton to Oxford. The name of this boy, now a man, is Tajay Thompson. I also see distraught dads and children who because of this policy are wetting their beds, hitting their heads against the wall, and displaying suicidal ideation. I see people who have not been to Jamaica since their childhood. Some show evidence of “physical scars and further evidence of being subjected to ill treatment” during their time there, and others who have had siblings killed in Jamaica. Who knows what awaits them? The label of “criminal” is a convenient way for the government to individualise structural issues and shift the responsibility of the grievous consequences from themselves to Jamaican victims. Yet at the same time, these people are not being viewed as individuals but as the reductive, often racialised, label of “criminal”.

“A racism which is so deep-rooted that it penetrates the psyche of Black and Asian people, leading them to align themselves with the oppressors.”

Even if you argue that there were serious criminals on this flight, we cannot deny the disruption to Black Jamaican families and communities these deportation flights lead to. Even if some aren’t “innocent”, some on the flights are, hence the immense number of successful last-minute appeals in February and more recently. A draft Windrush report commissioned in July 2018 notes that if its recommendations were taken on board then at least two of the intended deportees would not be deported. Furthermore, the deportation flights pave the way for another Windrush scandal to happen, in which those who do not have the paperwork to “prove” their citizenship are wrongly deported. Even if you cannot see how the recent flight reproduces the injustice of the Windrush scandal, it is obvious how it allows for another such incident. The COVID-19 pandemic creates an additional host of issues, such as the increased likelihood of illness, death and the spread of COVID-19 in Jamaica.

These critiques have been voiced by numerous grassroots activist groups like Detention Action, 82 Black public figures, more than 60 MPs and several lawyers. However, these cries for justice have fallen on deaf ears. I am not surprised given that our Prime Minister has called us “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles” and our Home Secretary, Priti Patel, embodies internalised racism. The fact that she gaslighted Labour MP Florence Eshalomi in the House of Commons by denying the government’s failure to recognise structural inequality in the UK is evidence of racism itself. A racism which is so deep-rooted that it penetrates the psyche of Black and Asian people, leading them to align themselves with the oppressors.


Mountain View

Systemic racism exists in the UK at every level of government and society

It is clear that these ears are wilfully deaf. As a result, it is up to the airlines to refuse to comply with mass deportation flights. The five airlines that public figures wrote to have refused to comply, but it is suspected that it was because of the airline Privilege Style that the flight continued anyway. We need both united action among airlines and enough dissent from MPs against this form of systemic racism. How many more deportation flights, resulting deaths and displacements will it take before the Conservative government sees that Black Jamaicans are not only citizens, but also humans, whose human rights have been violated?