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Photography Moeez Ali

These protesters face jail time for stopping a deportation flight

‘The government is now aggressively trying to suppress opposition and scare people from protesting’

Three protesters have been charged with offences carrying a maximum life imprisonment sentence after blocking deportations to Jamaica.

Last November, the trio locked onto each other using metal pipes and blocked a road outside Brook House Immigration Removal Centre at Gatwick to prevent people from being forcibly deported. The flight was originally supposed to carry up to 50 people, including a 20-year-old woman who had been in the UK since she was 13 and has no relatives in Jamaica. At least ten had arrived in Britain at age 16 or younger, and five had come at age 10 or younger. Nine of them had been in the UK for 20 years or longer and many had British children (if the flight had gone ahead, up to 24 children would have lost their fathers). In the end, the plane left with just four people on board. 

The three protesters were charged with aggravated trespass and causing a public nuisance. While ‘public nuisance’ sounds quite flimsy, as far as crimes go, it can carry a hefty sentence. Before 2022, when it became a statutory offence which can lead to ten years in prison, it was an archaic law which carried a maximum life imprisonment sentence – and unfortunately, this is what the protesters will be tried with. The same offence has been used to penalise protesters before, such as Paralympian athlete James Brown, who was sentenced to 12 months in prison for glueing himself to a plane in protest of the climate crisis. The protestors will be tried by a jury next May, and are currently crowdfunding their legal fees.

The fact that the government is continuing to go ahead with these cruel and inhumane deportations demonstrates that it hasn’t learned its lesson from the Windrush Scandal, which derives its name from the ship which brought the largest group of Caribbean migrants to the UK in 1948. Because the Caribbean was part of the British commonwealth at the time, these people were automatically British subjects and had the right to work and live here permanently. But following the Tory government’s efforts to create a “hostile environment” for migrants in 2012, many of the Windrush generation who had arrived in the UK as children slowly began to lose their rights to healthcare, housing and benefits; some people were placed in immigration detention centres and some were forcibly deported to countries where they hadn’t been since they were children. The Windrush scandal ruined countless lives and inspired a sizable backlash at the time of its reporting, but the government is clearly undeterred in persecuting migrants; many of whom, in this case, have Windrush connections.

According to campaign group Stop Deportations, “blocking the road from Brook House prevented people from being violently and cruelly taken away from their families and loved ones. Many of those who were due to be deported to Jamaica arrived in the UK as children and have family here including children, some had Windrush connections and some are potential trafficking survivors. They did not receive proper legal advice or time to challenge their deportation, so direct action was necessary to prevent it.”

“The government is now aggressively trying to suppress opposition and scare people from protesting and similar direct action by charging three people with such serious offences,” their statement continues “By blocking the detention centre, we not only condemn this charter flight, but we stand with all those locked in detention centres, subject to deportations and otherwise oppressed by racist border controls. We reject the legitimacy of the entire deportation regime. It is premised on racist notions of Black, Brown and Racialised people – from their disproportionate treatment in the criminal injustice system to their demonisation the Home Office.”

To help The Brook House Blockaders with their legal fees, visit their crowdfunder here