Protesters listen to messages from detainees at a protest outside the Jamaican High Commission
A man who has lived in the UK since he was seven but is facing deportation to Jamaica next week says the government is “basically sending me back to death”.
The man, who has been in the care system, said he considers himself British and fears for his safety if deported as planned on a flight due to leave for Jamaica on May 18.
“Since I’ve been in this country, I’ve never even left. I don’t even know what Jamaica looks like,” he told The Big Issue from his cell in an immigration removal centre. He said he has lost 5kg in weight since being detained at the end of April.
“I’m British – I don’t have a Jamaican accent, I went to primary school and secondary school here. My whole family’s here.”
The man, who served three years in prison for a drugs conviction in 2015, added: “To put me on a plane and send me back there, it’s basically sending me back to death. You’re basically just an easy target. How do you survive? How do you do anything?
He said it was only when he was in care at 16 and tried to apply for work and a provisional licence that he discovered he had no immigration status.
“I know that if social services had done their job properly, I wouldn’t be in this mess,” he said.
“I came here and all my good habits, all my bad habits, everything about me I developed here. I’m a statistic of England – I’m English, I’m British. I’m a part of this country. I know nothing else.”
Up to 35 children have parents who have been detained for the flight on May 18, according to campaign group Movement for Justice, while the majority of those detained came to the UK as children.
Families of those facing deportation rallied in the pouring rain outside the Jamaican High Commission on Wednesday evening, trying to pressure the Jamaican government not to accept the flights – or at least not to accept deportees who came to the UK as children.
Karen Doyle, of Movement for Justice, told The Big Issue: “Out of the 20 people I’ve spoken to, the vast, vast majority came as children to the UK.
“That’s the really striking thing about this flight. It’s very unusual. You’ll always have one or two but this is an overwhelming number of people that look and sound British.”
‘One of our clients will miss his baby’s first steps if he is deported next week’
Movement for Justice speaks to those detained, in a bid to connect them with legal help and make their situations known. Doyle said 13 out of 20 people she had spoken to came to the UK under the age of 18. Of those, 11 came aged 12 and under. One of those detained for the May 18 flight has no criminal convictions, she added.
A survey of those detained, collected by Movement for Justice and shared with The Big Issue, shows that one detainee was just one year old when he came to the UK.
At least 10 detainees have direct connections to the Windrush generation through grandparents, aunties and uncles
Bella Sankey, director of Detention Action, told The Big Issue: “One of our clients will miss his baby’s first steps if he is deported next week. Meanwhile, the Home Secretary has recently admitted that she doesn’t even care to keep a record of how many children are harmed when she forcibly removes their fathers.
“If someone has lived in Britain most of their lives then they are British in all but name and they are our responsibility.”
A crowd of around 20 people gathered outside the Jamaican High Commission. Through a phone held up to a microphone, those inside detention centres addressed the protest.
“I have been here all my life. I went to primary school, secondary school. I went to college here. I am practically British,” one detainee said. “They went to deport me to a foreign country.”
Jasmine Allton, whose friend was detained for the upcoming flight, said he faces death threats in Jamaica, and will leave behind children.
She told The Big Issue: “Going back there’s not safe any more. It was going to be the first birthday he’s spent with his son. He was away for eight years and got out 10 months ago.
“We’ve never been in this situation before. He’s given a flight within two weeks of being taken in. There’s a limited amount of time and resources to find the people to help. It’s not something anyone should have to go through.”
The man’s partner, who did not wish to be named for fear of identifying him, told The Big Issue: “It’s mentally draining. The first thing he said to me when he got into the immigration centre is that he wants to take his life. He has nobody.
“Contact with anybody that can help has been restricted.”
‘This is the first test of the Borders Bill and we have to defeat it’
There were two charter flights to Jamaica in 2021 – with around a dozen people deported in total. Campaigners say behind these numbers are indiscriminate detentions – with up to 50 detained in anticipation of each flight – and that the flights sit as part of a wider deportation regime.
A total of 1,303 people were deported on charter flights in 2021, including 435 to Albania and 219 to Romania. The government spent over £11m on the flights last year, an increase of a third in a single year.
“The truth is they don’t allow redemption and rehabilitation for black people. This is the first test of the Borders Bill and we have to defeat it,” Doyle told the crowd.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We make no apology for seeking to remove foreign criminals and return those with no right to stay here. This is what the public rightly expects and why we regularly operate flights to different countries.
“Those being detained for removal on this charter include foreign national offenders who have been convicted of very serious offences the nature of which have a devastating impact on victims and their families, as well as the wider community in which we all live.
“Our priority will always be to keep our communities safe and since January 2019 we have removed more than 10,000 foreign criminals.”