This article is featured in Red Pepper Issue 223: Feminist Futures.
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One cold morning in February, the first deportation flight to Jamaica since the outbreak of the Windrush scandal took off from Birmingham. At least 29 people were aboard the charter flight, tearing families and communities apart, and showing the government’s continued commitment to its ‘hostile environment’ agenda.
On that same morning, a group of campaigners, the Stansted 15, were sentenced for chaining themselves to a Home Office deportation flight back in 2017. Though it was a relief that the campaigners avoided custodial sentences, these charges – under legislation introduced to deal with acts of terror – should never have been brought. They are an affront to our right to peaceful protest.
As Annahita Moradi reminds us on the Red Pepper website, the deportations to Jamaica presented a stark reminder that ‘we cannot claim victory until these scandalous tactics have ended’. Recent concerns over the Home Office’s attempts to accelerate forced removals to Zimbabwe act only to underline this point.
A commitment to ending deportations and detention has to be a fundamental component of contemporary anti-racist struggle.
Deportations are often justified on the grounds that those who are deported have criminal records, but this cannot thwart our resistance to their inhumanity. This is a point that the researcher and writer Luke de Noronha makes in his important work on deportations. As he argues, we ‘need to develop arguments that can include those with criminal records’. The good migrant/bad migrant dichotomy serves only to destabilise our movements: it must be jettisoned.
Last year saw an outpouring of sympathy for those caught up in the Windrush scandal, which saw pensioners who had lived their whole lives in Britain deported. The home secretary, Sajid Javid, vowed to ‘do right by the Windrush generation’. As he sought to mask the government’s callousness, he spoke of a need to be ‘fair’ and ‘humane’. Anybody who was naïve enough to believe Javid’s unconvincing performance will since have seen their delusions shattered, as he has reverted to making the argument about the need to deport ‘criminals’.
Yet many of the supposed crimes of those deported are far less serious than Javid would suggest. A racist criminal justice system means that ‘migrants’ are far more likely to be criminalised. On this point, we begin to see how institutions interlock to maintain white supremacist conditions. Anti-racist resistance, therefore, must be waged on many fronts.
There is a much more fundamental point to be made here, however. To again draw upon Luke de Noronha, ‘deportation represents a form of double punishment’ and ‘abandons all notions of rehabilitative justice’. These are double standards that are indicative of a racialised system in which Britain seeks to maintain control over what was once its empire.
From the middle passage to contemporary deportations, the modern history of Britain has been characterised by its insatiable desire to control the movement of black and brown bodies. However, there is now, as there was then, unwavering forms of resistance. The Stansted 15, and other tireless campaigners have shown the way: we too must fight for an end to deportations and an end to the inhumanity of detention.
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