Legal action, attempted suicides and Covid cases force Home Office to dramatically reduce capacity of charter flight after department pursues removals despite calls from Jamaican authorities to halt operation
A charter flight to Jamaica left the UK with around seven people on board after dozens had their tickets cancelled in the days and hours before its departure following legal intervention.
The lead-up to the flight was mired in controversy, as the Home Office continued to push ahead with it despite calls from the Jamaican government for the operation to be cancelled due to concerns over potential Covid cases among detainees.
But the flight departed shortly after 1am on Wednesday, according to flight tracker data shared by campaign group Movement for Justice. The Independent understands that between seven and 10 deportees were on board, out of a total capacity of 50 and the Home Office’s original “long list” of 90 individuals they wished to deport.
The Jamaican High Commissioner had also raised concern with the department about the fact that removal directions had been issued to people who arrived in the UK as young children, despite a previous policy not to do so. The Home Office refused to publicly agree to any such policy, but The Independent understands that no one who arrived under the age of 12 ended up being on the flight.
Sanjay McLean, who moved to the UK aged 12 and whose lawyers argue that he has the right to British citizenship under the Windrush scheme, had his ticket cancelled at the last minute after his solicitors secured a High Court injunction.
Speaking to The Independent at 11:15pm on Tuesday from a van at Stanstead airport, the 41-year-old said he had been told the Home Office was appealing the judge’s decision, and that he was therefore being held at the airport until the flight’s departure in case they won the appeal.
“I’m not in a good place, I don’t know how to feel, round and round, I thought a weight was lifted of my shoulder, and now they’re doing this again. I’m an emotional wreck right now,” he said.
Mr McLean was ultimately not put on the flight and returned to Colnbrook removal centre at around 5:30am on Tuesday.
Two other individuals who faced deportation, both of whom arrived in the UK as children, attempted suicide in the hours before the flight, which led to them being rushed to hospital and meant they could not be removed.
A Jamaica government source told The Independent that a meeting took place on Tuesday morning in which Kingston asked the Home Office not to go ahead with the flight, citing concerns about the spread of Covid – but their request appears to have been ignored.
There were at least two coronavirus cases confirmed among Jamaican nationals in Colnbrook removal centre in the days before the flight, with at least one unit in the centre – known as C-Wing – placed in isolation as a result.
Javaun Simpson, who is in C-wing and was due to be on the flight, told The Independent on Wednesday morning that none of the four Jamaican nationals on the wing were taken for removal. They were not told why, but he said he suspected it was due to Covid safety.
“I thought I was being taken but no one came. I’m relieved I wasn’t, but I’m still worried. I’m still here and I still don’t know if they’ll try deport me again,” he said.
The Independent understands that the Jamaican High Commission was under the impression that all deportees would have had a negative PCR test before arrival in the country – but this is not the case. The plane is yet to land and it is unclear whether the Jamaican government will accept them without proof of PCR tests.
The Home Office said it managed charter flight operations carefully and only removed people when it was safe to do so, adding that all of those on the flight would be seen by a healthcare professional prior to their departure and that the Jamaican authorities had been involved in the planning of the flight.
They added: “The government is clear that foreign nationals who abuse our hospitality by committing crimes should be in no doubt of our determination to deport them.”