British Government under pressure over Jamaica deportation flight

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The British government is being pressured to suspend a flight to Jamaica, which according to one charity, could be deporting victims of trafficking. The charity, Joint Council for Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), is reporting that “many of those facing deportation have been residents in the UK for decades” and is demanding that the plan be suspended. The flight with the deportees is due to leave on February 11.

Yesterday, a Labour Member of Parliament (MP) urged the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, to suspend the flight until a report into the Windrush scandal is published. However, Johnson responded by saying it was “right to send back foreign national offenders”.

In a Parliamentary briefing, JCWI said it was concerned that some of the passengers could be potential victims of trafficking or victims of county lines exploitation. The term “county lines” is used to describe gangs and organised criminal groups distributing drugs from typically larger cities to smaller towns around the country using mobile phones to arrange deals with suppliers and buyers.

The BBC is reporting that the charity also raised fears that those set to be deported were “very vulnerable individuals, who have not been adequately assessed for their fitness to fly, despite presenting with serious medical conditions”. A lawyer representing 13 of the people due to be on the flight also said he had “serious concerns” about the vulnerability of those being deported.

Toufique Hossain, a director at Duncan Lewis solicitors, told the BBC that one of his clients had been “forced” to commit a drugs offence by older gang leaders. The issue was raised at Prime Minister’s Questions, when Labour MP, Nadia Whittome called for the flight to be suspended until a review into the lessons learnt from the Windrush scandal was published and its recommendations implemented. The Windrush scandal saw many of those who had arrived in Caribbean countries between 1958 and 1971 detained or deported despite having the right to live in the UK for decades. The fallout prompted criticism of the government’s “hostile environment” approach to immigration and led to the resignation of Amber Rudd as home secretary.

Responding to Whittome’s question Johnson said: “The people of this country will think it right to send back foreign national offenders.”

Shadow Women and Equalities Minister, Dawn Butler said one of her constituents was among the deportees and she objected to them being branded “serious criminals”. Her constituent had been convicted “under the now unlawful joint enterprise rule” and had been released after two months, she told MPs yesterday. She backed calls for the flight to be halted “until we establish the true facts of the situation”.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “The planned charter flight to Jamaica is specifically for removing foreign criminals. Those detained for removal include people convicted of manslaughter, rape, violent crime and dealing Class-A drugs.” The spokeswoman added that “everyone on the flight will have had their cases fully reviewed to ensure there are no outstanding legal barriers, including trafficking and slavery claims that would prevent their removal from the UK”. The Home Office said that under the UK Borders Act 2007, a deportation order must be made where a foreign national has been convicted of an offence and received a custodial sentence of 12 months or more.