A support group gathers disturbing testimony from people deported by commercial contractors, reports Lotte LS
Eight private security guards restrained and physically forced a fearful man onto a recent Home Office removal flight at Stansted Airport, a fellow passenger has reported.
The charter flight on Titan Airways departed Stansted for Nigeria and Ghana on May 24. It was staffed for the UK Home Office by the private security company Tascor, a subsidiary of Capita, who claim to achieve the “safe and secure escorting and removal of more than 18,000 individuals from the UK each year”.
The Unity Centre in Glasgow, a voluntary group that offers support to people seeking asylum and anyone affected by border controls, has taken witness statements from three men who expressed concerns about the treatment meted out to the restrained detainee we’ll call Jack. The three witnesses were forcibly removed from the UK alongside Jack.
Propelled onto the plane
Speaking over the phone from Accra, Witness A told us he was sitting behind Jack on the coach journey from Colnbrook detention centre in Middlesex to Stansted Airport. He said that Jack complained of back and leg pain during the 65 mile journey. When the coach reached Stansted, and the guards prepared to board the plane, he said that Jack knelt down and “just let himself go”, falling to the ground.
The witness claimed that Jack showed no aggression as he told Tascor guards that he didn’t want to go, and that his life would be in danger if he got onto the plane. He continued to tell staff this as he passively resisted being removed from the ground.
Then, approximately eight Tascor guards held the man, pulling him up from the floor and holding him in an “L” position, propelling him up the stairs and onto the plane, said Witness B. Jack’s escort “buddy” — the guard assigned to him — asked the supervisor “if it was okay if they bind him”, to which the supervisor agreed.
Via email from Lagos, Witness C told us of prison-like conditions and humiliating scrutiny. He said: “Anyone finding themselves in that situation… having someone sit next to you, taking notes on your behaviour patterns, if you’ve eaten, if you’ve drank water, if you’ve been to the loo — I mean, no one wants to be in that situation.”
He continued: “It’s not a nice experience for anybody. Imagine — even when you’re getting on the plane, they hold you, there’s one person holding you on the left, one person holding you on the right, and then takes you up the plane.”
Witness B told us that detainees were vastly outnumbered by Tascor guards.
A nasty business
In 2013, Tascor guards were accused of a brutal assault on Marius Betondi, a Cameroonian man who was seeking asylum.
Dr Charmian Goldwyn, a doctor instructed by the UK charity Medical Justice, examined Betondi, noting that the “number, pattern and distribution of injuries is in my opinion typical of their attribution to deliberate blows to the face caused during a recent assault”.
But, the BBC reported: “immigration sources said Mr Betondi had caused the injuries himself”.
Mubenga, a healthy 46 year old and father of five children, died after being restrained by three G4S guards on a British Airways plane at Heathrow Airport in October 2010.
In July 2013 an inquest jury found that he had been “unlawfully killed”. Three G4S guards were acquitted of manslaughter in December 2014. Racist texts found on the mobile phones of two of the guards were read out to the inquest jury, but the racist texts and the fact of the unlawful killing verdict were withheld from the jury in the criminal trial.
The coroner in the case of Jimmy Mubenga published a report on the case (known as a ‘Rule 43’ report or a 'Prevention of future deaths' report). The coroner, Karon Monaghan QC, noted that employees moved from one contractor to another as the contract changed hands. She cited the racist texts as evidence of a “pervasive racism” at G4S, and she wrote: “There was other evidence . . . of an unhealthy culture in G4S, and then Reliance, and it is difficult to see why that would have changed now that Tascor holds the contract, for the reasons just given.”
She went on: “Evidence before the Inquest suggested problems with culture and behaviour more widely manifested by, as it was reported by one witness, ‘loutish, laddish behaviour... Inappropriate language, and peer pressure. Don’t necessarily celebrate difference. Don’t personalise the detainee...’”.
The coroner continued, “The same witness reported evidence that Reliance was not a company where women, ethnic minorities and those of diverse religions felt comfortable. It seems unlikely that endemic racism would not impact at all on service provision.”
‘Just doing our job’
One man deported to Nigeria earlier this year told The Unity Centre, via phone from Lagos, that three Tascor guards escorted him onto a commercial Virgin Atlantic flight, before other passengers boarded.
Terry (not his real name) told The Unity Centre that he did not physically resist removal, but made it clear to the guards and other passengers that he was being removed against his will from the UK, where he has a partner and young child.
Terry told us that in response to his shouts that he had a human rights court case pending, Tascor escorts applied forceful pressure to his joints —to his wrists, left knee and left thumb. This continued at the back of the plane until the flight took off, when Terry says he gave up shouting.
No passenger took action or offered support. For the duration of the flight Terry was restrained around his waist and wrists. He said that during the flight Tascor guards began “casually chatting” with him, telling him their jobs were “simply to effect deportation”.
Terry says he left the plane in Nigeria in serious pain: his wrists were swollen and he walked with a limp. He says he took more than two weeks to recover and had no money to see a doctor.
Reasonable, necessary and proportionate?
I asked Tascor and the Home Office for comment on the standard use of physical force and restraints by guards during deportations, and specifically in relation to the events on the charter flight of May 24.
The Home Office responded: “Those with no right to be in the UK should return home. We expect people to leave the country voluntarily but, where they do not, Immigration Enforcement will seek to enforce their departure.”
The Home Office statement continued: “Where detainees refuse to comply, we regrettably may have to use force to ensure they leave the UK. Any use of force must be reasonable, necessary and proportionate and there is a heavy emphasis on using it as a matter of last resort, and for the shortest possible time. The use of restraint is closely monitored and we operate a comprehensive complaints system if detainees feel that they have not been treated in accordance with our standards. The decision to use handcuffs is only ever made on the basis of a full individual risk assessment.”
Tascor responded that it would be inappropriate for them to comment beyond the statement provided by the Home Office.
The next flight
In accordance with the Home Office’s bimonthly schedule regarding “Operation Majestic”, a mass deportation charter flight to Nigeria and Ghana is set for Tuesday 26 July.
Under the new Immigration Act 2016 and expansion of the Home Office’s ‘Deport Now, Appeal Later’ policy, many people given removal directions for July 26 have been denied a right of appeal in the UK.
In order to comply with the European Convention of Human Rights, out-of-country appeals must be treated as if the appellant has remained in the UK. In practice, potential appellants face multiple barriers to justice. These include a lack of willing lawyers, the difficultly of lodging an appeal within the 28-day time limit, financial hardship, and the all-encompassing struggle to readjust and survive post-deportation.
In the past few months The Unity Centre has been in contact with people unable to pursue an out-of-country appeal due to the precarity and risk first identified in their asylum or human rights claim whilst in the UK.
Support in Nigeria
A group of people who have been removed to Nigeria against their will by the UK Home Office are offering support and solidarity to people who are also forcibly removed to Nigeria. They want to help to pick people up from the airport, contact any friends or family they may still have in Nigeria, document people’s stories to raise awareness of the injustice and violence of deportations, and challenge removals where possible.
You can read more about the group and donate to their crowdfunder here. The money raised will go towards costs for travelling to and from the airport people, phone credit and phones for people to contact any friends or family they may still have in Nigeria, food, emergency accommodation, emergency transport, and resources for recording peoples stories.
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