Wed | Sep 20, 2017

Luke de Noronha | Inhumane deportation

Published:Sunday | July 16, 2017 | 7:00 AM

Just over a week ago, two reports were published in Britain that might interest the Jamaican readership. They both concerned mass-deportation charter flights from London to Kingston.

Charter flights from London to Kingston restarted in September 2016, and they look likely to continue every six months. It is unclear why the UK has recommenced charter flights. The UK still deports Jamaicans on commercial Virgin Atlantic flights every few days, and the number of Jamaicans in prison has fallen significantly in the last decade. It is important to remember, too, that many deportees do not have criminal records, and those who do are most often deported for minor drug crimes - crimes of poverty, rather than violence.

The first report was an annual review by the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) regarding several charter flights from Britain in 2016 - to Albania, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Jamaica. I have met a few people who were on that charter flight to Jamaica in September 2016, and the majority of them left children behind in Britain. Theirs were stories of banishment from home, rather than a return to home. People had been away so long that they had few memories of the island, and no close family members to turn to. This is a familiar story.

 

HUMILIATING STRAPS

 

What was significant about the report was the use of waist-restraint belts on the flight. Far more than any other nationality, Jamaicans were restrained in these belts, which act like straitjackets to prevent people moving their arms - often for hours at a time. On other chartered flights, only a few deportees are restrained in this way; it's the exception rather than the rule.

While on the Jamaican flight last September, more than 60 per cent of people on the flight were restrained with these belts. Most of them had not made any attempts to resist or fight with the escorts, and yet they were restrained in this humiliating way.

The second report, conducted by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons, covered the last deportation flight from the UK to Jamaica in March 2017. Again, the independent inspectors found that force was used far too often. The report notes that escorting staff prepared for the flight with the assumption that there was a general risk of "disruptive behaviour". This assumption was not based on evidence. They state that "seven people were put in waist restraint belts, not because of violence or a need for physical restraint, but because of their 'demeanour' or 'attitude'".

So when Jamaicans are deported on charter flights, they are more than three times more likely to be restrained in body belts, and this is not based on individual risk assessments, but on lazy assumptions about attitude, demeanour and risk. Clearly, Jamaicans are treated differently to other groups, assumed to be more violent. Perhaps, this, too, is unsurprising.

After all, Jamaicans have long been stereotyped in Britain as violent and criminal. London's police commissioner, back in the 1980s, said, "In the Jamaicans, you have a people who are constitutionally disorderly ... . It's simply in their make-up, they're constitutionally disposed to be anti-authority." These stereotypes, which can be traced back to slavery and colonialism, have profound consequences today.

In the British context, black people are more likely to be treated aggressively by the police, and more likely to die in police custody; black boys are punished more harshly in schools, excluded at an inordinate rate; and black people with mental ill-health are more likely to be sectioned and treated with force within the health service. The treatment of Jamaicans on charter flights, then, is fundamentally related to racist ideas about the potential violence of black people. On top of this general anti-black racism, there is something specific in stereotypes surrounding Jamaican violence and criminality that is revealed by these reports into deportation flights.

Importantly, however, the violence of deportation is not simply about the charter flight itself, and those gruelling 24 hours, although these reports are damning. The violence is about what happens before and what happens after the flight. Many deportees are being forced to leave their family, their homes and their children. Many return to a forgotten homeland, fearing loneliness, isolation and violence.

The second report mentions the case of one 23-year-old Jamaican national: "He was upset because he felt he had been badly let down by his solicitor. He said he had come to the UK from Jamaica when he was aged one, and had no memory of Jamaica; that his mother was in the UK and he had a baby."

These kinds of deportation stories are getting more and more common as the UK takes a tougher approach to immigration each year. Is there a point at which the Jamaican Government would challenge these deportations? Is there a point at which deportation becomes so obviously unreasonable and unfair, for everyone concerned, that the receiving country asks questions of the more powerful, richer, deporting nation? It seems unlikely. But it is not impossible. Other countries are less compliant, and refuse to accept back their citizens unless they willingly consent to return, for example.

For now, we should at least recognise just how violent deportation is, not only on the charter flights - where Jamaicans are treated like animals, restrained in body belts with little justification - but also in the way families are ripped apart by UK immigration policy. The UK's immigration regime is designed to exclude Jamaicans and other former colonial subjects from moving in the first place, and then to expel those who have broken the rules. But the rules get stricter every year, and it doesn't take much to get deported. Clearly, Jamaicans are only ever tolerated in the imperial metropole.

- Luke de Noronha is a PhD researcher at Oxford University, United Kingdom. His research is focused on examining the issue deportation from the UK to Jamaica. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and luke.denoronha@gtc.ox.ac.uk.