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Families fear another Jamaica deportation charter flight is imminent after reports of detentions

The last flight to Jamaica left with just four passengers after protesters frustrated the Home Office’s plans.

Campaigners have warned of a fresh Jamaica deportation charter flight, after becoming aware of people being taken into custody.

It would be the first charter flight to leave for Jamaica since November. That flight left with a handful of passengers after protesters delayed an airport transport van to buy time for legal challenges.

Movement for Justice, a campaign group which supports those facing deportation, said it had been made aware of four individuals detained for removal to Jamaica.

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The flight could take place in mid-May, the group warned, with detentions expected to increase in the coming weeks.

At a protest outside the Jamaican High Commission on Wednesday afternoon, families and activists gathered to call on the Jamaican government not to accept the flights.

Angela Burkett, whose husband Mark was detained and released for the flight in November, said their two children faced losing their father if he was detained again.

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“They’re inhumane. He’s been here since 2001, we’ve got kids, we’ve got a right to a family life,” she told The Big Issue.

Mark Burkett was released from prison in 2015 after serving two years for selling drugs, and now provides care for his son with learning difficulties. The possibility of a fresh flight has raised anxiety for their son.

“It’s absolutely awful, you don’t sleep,” said Angela.

“It has a massive impact on our son who has additional needs. You can see him getting extremely anxious and wound up about it.”

Karen Doyle of Movement for Justice said the flights themselves were unjust.

“They sweep up the community in a racist dragnet and deport people whose whole lives are here, people who have children who need them,” she said.

“We’re saying no more – no-one should face that kind of injustice.”

The news comes as the government faces backlash over its plans to send asylum seekers to Rwanda for processing, and as the Home Office scrapped its refugee “pushback” policy days before a High Court review.

The Home Office’s spending on deportation charter flights rose by a third in 2021, to over £11 million. Charter flights, as opposed to scheduled flights, are planes specifically hired for deportations.

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Over 1,300 people were deported to a range of countries on the flights last year, which lawyers and politicians have slammed as unjust and a waste of money.

A flight which left in November had just four people on board – despite over 30 being detained originally.

In January, a Big Issue investigation uncovered how those detained for deportation did not have access to proper legal representation until the last minute.

Protesters outside the Jamaica High Commission on April 27. Image: Greg Barradale

The Home Office defends the flights as a way to deport those with no right to be in the UK, and says they are hampered by “baseless” last minute legal challenges.

A Home Office spokesperson told The Big Issue:  “Those with no right to be in the UK, including foreign national offenders, should be in no doubt that we will do whatever is necessary to remove them.

“This is what the public rightly expects and why we regularly operate flights to different countries. Since January 2019, we have removed more than 10,000 foreign national offenders.

“The New Plan for Immigration will fix the broken immigration system and stop the abuse we are seeing by expediting the removal of those who have no right to be here.”

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