As widely reported, the UK Home Office scheduled a secret mass deportation charter flight for Jamaica, which departed 7th September 2016, forcibly removing individuals 4,500 miles from their children and families in the UK – the first to do so since 2014. In total, 42 people were deported; The Unity Centre was in contact with over 50 individuals issued with tickets for the flight.
All deportees spoken to had arrived to the UK as a child: they went through the UK education system, were denied job opportunities in the UK, and were deported by the British government in an attempt to export the social problems that are caused by vast inequalities, racism and exclusion – leading to considered crimes such as shoplifting and drug dealing. When viewed as part of a wider picture of the UK deportation regime, the fact that people are continually deported to countries such as Jamaica – places that have played no role in shaping a person’s life other than determining someone’s nationality on paper – the deeply ingrained racism within UK society is potent.
As the Refugee Convention is not incorporated within British law, people who have been given refugee status, or are claiming asylum, can have their refugee status revoked. This may apply if they have been convicted of a “particularly serious crime” or can be considered as a “danger to the community”. Home Office guidance previously stated that included in this was “theft, with no qualification as to the nature or value of the item or items stolen (so that theft of a bottle of milk is sufficient)”, which was later deleted by the Home Office from their guidance open to public viewing.
Unable to afford the £1,121 cost of formal British citizenship, the people deported on the charter flight last Wednesday had nevertheless built communities in the UK; every individual The Unity Centre spoke to but one has children in the UK. In response, the Home Office assert that people forcibly removed are able to maintain strong relationships with their children and grand-children via “modern methods” such as Skype.
Many are victims of Operation Nexus: a joint initiative which sees the sharing of information regarding non-British nationals, between the Home Office and several police forces – which often relies on suspicion rather than actual criminal convictions – meaning that someone facing deportation may have never been convicted for a crime, yet their removal from the UK is framed as “conducive to the public good”. Couple this with institutional racism within the police force, and suddenly there is a proliferation of people lacking British citizenship who are facing deportation without ever having a criminal conviction.
Most people on the charter flight were issued with the “right” to appeal on human rights grounds after being deported to Jamaica. An exception is made for people facing “serious irreversible harm” in their country of origin. But most people fearing serious irreversible harm claim asylum. And doing so in the run up to deportation is usually considered an attempt to “frustrate” removal, which the Home Office can use as a reason to remove appeal rights, meaning the asylum claim must be dealt with out of country.
Home Office guidance states: “When a person brings or continues an appeal relating to a protection claim from outside the UK…the appeal is to be treated as if the person were not outside the UK.” With many years of experience supporting individuals facing deportation and witnessing the beginning of the ‘Deport Now, Appeal Later’ policy, we can state that in no way can an out-of-country appeal be considered and treated as though the person was appealing from within the UK.
One example of this is the way in which out-of-country appeals are conducted through video-link through the receiving country’s embassy; Roots to Return has heard from individuals who are unable to appeal through this due to wishing to avoid the country’s embassy as they are themselves in hiding, whilst lawyers and groups such as The Aire Centre in the UK have already recorded the difficultly of participating in an appeal in court via video-link.
Once removed, people often find themselves destitute, with little or no money, job prospects – and a complete lack of connections or resources to be able to pursue an out-of-country appeal, which requires a UK based lawyer or representative, £140 to lodge an appeal claim within the 28-day limit, and access to evidences supporting a human rights claim – which, if it is family-based, resides in the UK – and thus evidence cannot be gathered by the individual in the country they are removed to. The majority of lawyers we spoke to across the UK made it clear that they had little capacity to take on appeals from outside of the UK, noting the clear complications when compared to in-country appeals and legal representation; the ones that had capacity charged at least £2500 and were reluctant to apply for exceptional legal funding for a client outside of the UK.
This is clear too from The Unity Centre’s experiences supporting individuals pursuing out-of-country appeals. One man from Bangladesh attempted to pursue an out-of-country appeal; upon being forcibly removed, he found himself street homeless and severely ill – meaning that he was unable to even afford enough phone credit to contact a lawyer in the UK – let alone pay the £140 fee to lodge an appeal. Roots to Return experienced how another man, forcibly removed to Nigeria, was unable to pursue an out-of-country appeal due to the fact that he was in hiding from state officials he previously fled from to the UK; finding it too dangerous to even use a phone, he was forced to communicate with us through his mother, whose health was rapidly decreasing due to the stressfulness of the situation.
Both Roots to Return and The Unity Centre are unaware of a single instance in which someone has been successful in appealing from outside of the UK, with appeals taking up to 18 months to be heard. The success rate for appeals was just 13% in the year up to August 2015. However, in the year to April 2013, before ‘Deport first, Appeal later’, the success rate was double at 26% – demonstrating the alarming levels of poor Home Office decision-making that are overturned by the court afterwards. This suggests that appellants are much less likely to succeed on appeal once they are removed from the UK, despite the fact that there is no evidence to suggest that the basis of the appeals brought would have materially changed or that their cases would be weaker than those brought previously from within the UK.
Rather, the explicit process and procedure of an out-of-country appeal creates the conditions for appeals from outside of the country to be unsuccessful – let alone be lodged in the first place, with from July 2014 to August 2015 only 426 (25%) appealing against their deportation, a marked drop from the 2,329 who appealed in the previous year (to April 2013) – thus severely damaging the role of appeals as a vital part of accessing justice in the UK.
Roots to Return has been set up to support individuals pursuing out-of-country appeals, whilst monitoring and documenting the ways in which the UK’s obligations to the Refugee Convention may be breached, by identifying factors that ensure that individuals are unable to access the resources or support to substantially appeal from outside of the UK. We do not seek to support or fill in for the Home Office; we directly oppose their racist and unjust policies, and aim only to help individuals challenge these policies and return to the UK – not make deportations more bearable.
We have an online handbook to support those navigating the complex and largely unknown out-of-country appeals system, which can be found on our website. We support with identified barriers such as access to legal representation, video-link from the country of removal, organising witnesses, liaising with families and legal representatives in the UK, and submitting and preparing documents within the time limit.
WE ARE CALLING ON LAWYERS and people with legal experience to take on out-of-country appeal cases of those deported to Jamaica via the charter flight, in order to help return people to their families and communities in the UK, and document the clear barriers in pursuing out-of-country appeals.
For more information, contact Roots to Return at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Article submitted by Unity Human Rights Centre .