15 people are facing possible lengthy prison sentences for allegedly grounding a flight intended to forcibly remove migrants from the country they call home. This, in the eyes of the state constitutes the same risk as a random bomb thrown into a crowd. These scare tactics allows us to forget the real human lives at stake. They are designed to put people off similar actions, defending an indefensible system of deportations.
‘Charter flights’ refer to the Home Office practice of chartering flights to deport large numbers of people to specific countries. The flights don’t contain other passengers and take off late at night from undisclosed locations, hiding these deportations from public view. This was the first time such a flight has been grounded in the UK by people refusing to accept the brutality of the immigration system.
Deportation charter flights are brutal, secretive and barely legal. Investigations by Corporate Watch revealed that the Home Office racially profiles people for deportation so that it can fill flights, including people with active legal claims. Like Trump’s Muslim ban this practice is racist and arbitrary. Many enshrined international laws could make deportation charter flights unlawful:
European Convention on Human Rights
Article 4 of Protocol No. 4 [UK has not ratified] (Prohibition of collective expulsion of aliens)
Article 1 of Protocol No. 7 (Procedural safeguards relating to expulsion of aliens)
1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees
Article 32 (Expulsion) and 33 (Prohibition of expulsion or return (“refoulement”))
Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union 2000
Article 19 (Protection in the event of removal, expulsion or extradition)
Human Rights Act (HRA) 1998
Section 2(1) (Interpretation of convention rights) and 6 (Acts of public authorities)
However, in practice challenging deportation by charter flights in the courts is immensely difficult because of time constraints. Legal firms cite removal by charter flight as a reason not to argue otherwise strong cases.
Around 60-70 people can be deported on one flight, accompanied by about twice as many guards. The flights are operated by a number of private aviation companies and security companies, including Tascor, a subsidiary of Capita, and G4S on behalf of the Home Office. There is substantial evidence that people being deported experience violence and abuse on these secretive flights – including reports from HM Chief Inspector of prisons in 2011 and 2012, incidentally the only times witnesses have been present on the flights. People on the flights are handcuffed, waist restraint belts are regularly used, and some people are strapped to their seats. Numerous people have testified to the trauma of deportation charter flights because of the short notice, violent conditions, previous experience of trauma or torture, interruptions of applications to remain and fears for their safety on arrival in the destination country.
As Nadine El-Enany writes: “The Stansted 15 have been charged with intentionally disrupting services at an aerodrome under the Aviation and Maritime Security Act 1990, legislation that was introduced in response to the 1988 Lockerbie bombing and was designed to target terrorist activity. Parliament did not intend for this legislation to be used against political protesters. The use of the criminal law against protesters, and in particular offences designed to target serious and organised crime, sets a dangerous precedent. Not only does it paint legitimate, humanitarian and political protest as terrorist activity, it also risks dissuading people from engaging in protest for fear of being criminalised”.
Civil disobedience is an integral part of democracy – especially in fighting for and protecting human rights. Civil disobedience is not terrorism, and the Crown Prosecution Service attempt to marry the two is a stark reminder that our own human rights can be defined by who has the power. We know we have rights, we know no human being is illegal, but this is being twisted for political reasons and power grabbing. We are coming closer and closer to a situation where we have to remind those with the power that we are humans. We have not only the right to assembly, as article 11 of the Human Rights Act stipulates, but we have the right to family life, the right to seek asylum, the list goes on. Without civil disobedience, how will our reminders be effective?