30 June 2009, 23:50
The joint charter flight that was meant to carry rejected Nigerian refugees to Lagos via Dublin this afternoon has been delayed for several hours due to deportees' refusing to board the plane. As of 11pm, the flight, which was scheduled for 17:15, had still not left Gatwick airport.
The resistance by the deportees had started earlier in the day when a family, who had not had Removal Directions and were only told to "pack" in the morning, refused to leave their cell. The family, who have a 10-year-old daughter, had an outstanding Judicial Review and were not expecting to be deported today. After a few hours of 'negotiations', a large number of immigration officers and Serco security guards reportedly stormed in, accompanied by a video camera, and forced the family out of the cell.
Around 1:30pm, as the Yarl's Wood deportees were being put on coaches to be taken to the airport, supporters and campaigners from the Stop Deportation Network started a demonstration outside, blocking the only way out of the centre. The protest lasted until about 4:30pm, when it was removed by police and the coaches left immediately afterwards.
One protester was arrested for 'obstruction of a police officer', although all she did was to sit down and refuse to leave as the police only asked the protesters to leave and did not read out an official warning.
20 people, including three families, were taken from Yarl's Wood. Others were taken from Dungavel, Dover and Brook House detention centres. The delay, however, allowed more people to be taken off the flight.
At least four people are known to have obtained last-minutes injunctions. They were, however, 'substituted' by other detainees who had not been given any prior notice, in a clear disregard for the legal process. Three other detainees from had their Removal Directions cancelled but were still taken to the airport.
The now-famous hunger-striking family, Juliet and Steve Umoro and their two children who are suffering from malaria, had their injunction application refused at the last minute and were also taken to the airport. Apparently the judge did not believe the evidence given by the mother and no 'independent evidence' concerning one of the children's weight could be obtained to prove he was suffering from malaria.
Many of today's deportees are victims of torture, rape and female genital mutilation. However, as one of the 'white list' countries set out in the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, Nigerian asylum applications are almost automatically dismissed by the Home Office regardless of the merits and evidence supporting individual claims. Cases certified as 'manifestly unfounded' under the Fast Track system are often not examined properly and claimants do not have the right to in-country appeal against the Home Office decision. With charter flights, claimants do not even have time or adequate legal representation to seek a judicial review.
One of the Yarl's Wood protesters, who preferred to keep anonymous, said: "Mass deportation flights such as this one are fast becoming the government's favoured way to deport those who have fallen foul of its macabre immigration controls. Every deportation is a violation of people's right to freedom of movement but these charter flights are a particularly sordid way to do that."
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Notes for editors:
1. Stop Deportation is a loose network of groups and individuals who campaign and take action against deportation, with a particular focus on mass deportation flights. Details of the network, plus a briefing on mass deportation flights, can be found at http://stopdeportation.net.
2. Details of protests earlier today can be found at http://stopdeportation.net/node/18.
3. Details of previous Stop Deportation blockades (Tinsley and Colnbrook)against mass deportation flight to Iraqi Kurdistan can be found at http://stopdeportation.net/node/6. Pictures and videos of the actions can be found at http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2009/03/424608.html and http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2009/05/430420.html.
4. Details of the Yarl's Wood hunger strike can be found at http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2009/06/432625.html.