Families, activist decry upcoming deportations from the UK
It was expected to be another routine visit for Andrew Gosselin* when he showed up to fulfil his mandatory reporting requirement with authorities in the United Kingdom (UK) last week.
Gosselin, who spent three years in prison before his release last month, even made plans to take his younger sister to play netball this weekend.
Instead, the 24-year-old is now sitting in a UK detention centre, the youngest of 20 men set to become the latest group of Jamaican immigrants to be deported on a special charter flight scheduled for next week.
James Matthews, a Jamaican banker who is engaged to a British citizen, has also been identified in media reports as one of the 20 detainees expected to be on the flight.
Unlike Gosselin, he has no criminal conviction.
Matthews travelled to the UK in October 2019 on a visitor’s visa, but was unable to return home when it expired in April 2020 because the outbreak of the deadly COVID-19 had disrupted travel between the two countries, according to media outlet The Independent.
The 33-year-old was waiting to hear whether UK authorities would approve his application to remain in the country legally when immigration officers reportedly stormed his east London home last Friday.
Matthews was taken into custody and told he would be deported for being in the UK illegally. He has since filed legal action against the Home Office.
Their stories have triggered a fresh round of emotional outbursts from terrified relatives and renewed condemnation of Britain’s deportation policy, which critics claim disproportionately targets Caribbean nationals.
“I heard of Jamaica and I know about it – the amount of crime down there and killings – and I can’t imagine him going there,” said Gosselin’s mother, who did not want her name published.
“He has no one there to go to. I’m just crying thinking about it,” she added, repeating a phrase common among Jamaicans deported from overseas.
SECOND CHANCES DENIED
Karen Doyle, national organiser at the Movement for Justice (MFJ) lobby, rejected suggestions by the British government that mass deportation flights to Jamaica and other Caribbean nations are about weeding out foreign criminals and protecting the public.
She acknowledged that 19 of the 20 detainees have criminal convictions, but said they have all served their time and deserve to stay in the place they have called home for over two decades.
Doyle related, as an example, the story of one detainee who was released from prison five years ago and established a restaurant in Birmingham.
The Jamaican, she said, is a beloved figure in his community, providing employment and support to various groups, including the police.
“There are people like [name redacted], who, if they were white, would be held up as shining examples of rehabilitation and redemption. But second chances are denied to black people in the UK,” Doyle charged. “It’s a racist strategy.”
The Jamaicans are being held at Brook House, Colnbrook and Harmondsworth detention centres and have already been notified by the Home Office of their pending removal, relatives and MFJ disclosed.
“Directions have now been given for your removal from the United Kingdom on a direct flight to Kingston International Airport, Kingston, Jamaica on 18th May 2022,” read a letter received by one of the detainees and shared with The Sunday Gleaner.
Jamaican officials have not commented publicly about the impending flight, first reported by the UK media on Thursday.
Calls to National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang went unanswered.
Chang is required to give authorisation for the flight to land in Jamaica.
Doyle said Jamaicans should be told what “incentives were put on the table, financial or otherwise,” to get Jamaica’s cooperation with “patently unjust deportations”.
Gosselin is one of 11 detainees who were 12 years old or younger when they arrived in the UK, according to his mother and data reviewed by MFJ.
This cohort was previously shielded from mass deportation flights by the Jamaican Government, Doyle claimed during a Sunday Gleaner interview.
“We know the Jamaican Government has stepped in before to stop people who came to the UK under 12 years old from being on these flights,” she charged.
“If they are not prepared to stop the flights, the very least they can do is reinstate and make permanent that agreement.”
Gosselin was three years old and resided with his mother in St Catherine when they migrated to the UK in 2001, she disclosed.
The mother of three said she could not recall much about the crime for which her son was convicted, but believes deporting him was unfair.
She got emotional talking about her last telephone conversation with Gosselin on Friday morning.
“Oh, God. I don’t even know because he is not one who would want to hear me break down,” she said when asked how well he was coping.
Her plight is something Winnifred Ortega* is already grappling with.
Ortega’s common-law spouse and the father of her now-nine-month-old son was on the most recent mass deportation flight from the UK last November, she told The Sunday Gleaner.
Thirty-five children could see their fathers deported if the flight takes off on Wednesday as planned, MFJ said.
Ortega’s spouse was convicted for grievous bodily harm, a charge arising from a 2015 group fight. He was released after serving two years of his four-year sentence, she said.
The 26-year-old was apprehended by immigration authorities last July and deported without any document to confirm his identity, she said.
Antonio Gonzalez* believes he only missed the impending flight because he went into hiding at a friend’s house.
In fact, Gonzalez said he was one of several detainees set to be deported in 2020, but was taken off the flight at the last minute because of a pending application before the courts.
He admitted that he pleaded guilty to a firearm-related offence and spent eight years in prison before he was released in December 2020.
The 38-year-old father of six, who resided in rural St Andrew up to the time he migrated in 2002, said he went into hiding after receiving a tip through a social media group that included persons eligible for deportation.
He has not returned to Jamaica since.
The cat-and-mouse game with immigration authorities has traumatised his children, especially when there is a knock on the door to his apartment.
“As soon as they hear any noise outside or a knock on the door, they start panicking. They say they don’t want to go to school because they are not sure they will see me when they get home,” he said.
“I acknowledged my crime and that’s why I pled guilty. So why do you want to punish me and my family again?” he questioned.
A review by MFJ revealed that 17 of the detainees have been in the UK for 20 years or more and that 10 have “direct connections” to the Windrush Generation through grandparents, aunts and uncles.