DEPORTATION UNCERTAINTY

BY ARTHUR HALL, Jamaica Observer

Up to late yesterday there was uncertainty surrounding plans by the British Government to deport 50 Jamaicans today.

Several media reports in the United Kingdom (UK) yesterday said the British Government had received a blow to its plans to deport the Jamaicans after one of two legal actions to try to halt the scheduled flight succeeded.

But sources close to the British Government told the Jamaica Observer that there was nothing in the ruling from the court to prevent the flight from taking place.

According to The Guardian newspaper, the Court of Appeal made the ruling in an emergency out-of-hours hearing last night, ordering the Home Office not to remove anyone scheduled to be deported from two detention centres near Heathrow on the 6:30 am UK time (1:30 am locally) flight to Jamaica today, “unless satisfied [they] had access to a functioning non-O2 SIM card on or before February 3”.

There has been a problem with the O2 phone network in the Heathrow area including the detention centres since last month, so many detainees were not able to exercise their legal right to contact their lawyers.

But in an e-mailed response late last week to questions from the Observer about the phone issues, the British Home Office said that on January 13, an O2 network failure affected a wide area of London, including the immigration removal centres at Colnbrook and Harmondsworth.

According to the Home Office spokesperson, the issue was resolved on January 16. That would be in keeping with the timeline set by the court of appeal and would, if accurate, mean that the deportation could take place as scheduled.

The Home Office spokesperson further claimed that they were advised of planned works on the O2 network scheduled for Thursday, February 6 and that the service continues to be intermittent.

“Alternative SIM cards have been provided on request to detainees [who] have been reminded about the landline telephones available to them which they can use to contact their legal teams. Legal [advice] surgeries continue to run unaffected in the two IRCs (immigration removal centres). On top of this, detainees have access to the Internet, e-mail, and fax machines.

“Mitie, the service provider at the affected IRC, have been in regular contact with the network operator,” said the Home Office in an e-mail received by the Observer last Friday.

Despite the claims of the Home Office The Guardian quoted Bella Sankey, director of Detention Action, which brought the legal challenge on behalf of those set to be deported, as saying that they were delighted with what he termed a landmark decision which was a victory for access to justice, fairness, and the rule of law.

“On the basis of this order from our court of appeal we do not believe that anyone currently detained at the Heathrow detention centres can be removed on tomorrow’s (today) flight. We understand that this will apply to at least 56 people,” Sankey was reported as saying.

The Guardian also quoted Toufique Hossain, director of public law at Duncan Lewis, who brought the case for Detention Action, as saying: “For weeks now detainees’ complaints have fallen on deaf ears. Their removal looms large, hours away, and yet again it takes judicial intervention to make the Home Office take basic, humane, and fair steps to allow people to enjoy their constitutional right to access justice.”

Earlier yesterday, a high court judge refused an emergency application to halt the charter flight.

Mr Justice Mostyn refused an application from Duncan Lewis solicitors on behalf of 13 Jamaican-born men due to be put on the flight leaving the UK today.

The lawyers argued that the home secretary, Priti Patel, had acted unlawfully by forcing the men onto the plane, had breached human rights legislation, and denied them adequate access to legal advice.

Their application to the high court to halt the flight added that the Home Office’s announcements in the media and in Parliament about the charter flight would make the men being deported a “public spectacle” if they were returned to Jamaica and place them at risk.

The grounds for the high court’s refusal have not yet been made public.

In the meantime, some of the people who were set to be deported won the right to stay in the UK for the time being, after a separate application to the upper tribunal of the immigration chamber.

They include Akeem Finlay, whose solicitor Naga Kandiah welcomed the decision, but condemned the Home Office’s plan to deport so many men who would leave partners and children behind.

“It seems there is an inherent disregard for the integrity of the family unit and the welfare of children,” The Guardian quoted Kandiah as saying.