Home Secretary Priti Patel has defended plans to deport 50 people to Jamaica on Tuesday, after more than 170 MPs called for the flight to be halted. She said those on the flight had been convicted of “serious offences” carrying sentences of more than a year. She was bound by legislation to deport them, she said.
But shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said the move was unfair as some had come to the UK as children and “have no memory” of the country of their birth.
It comes after a leaked draft of the Windrush scandal report said the government should consider ending the deportation of foreign-born offenders who came to the UK as children.
Meanwhile, a legal challenge that was launched against the flight by a firm representing its potential passengers has been refused by the High Court.
Duncan Lewis Solicitors had argued that the flight’s passengers include people who are “potential victims of trafficking, groomed as children by drugs gangs running county lines networks and later pursued in the criminal justice system as serious offenders”.
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The flight from the UK to Kingston is due to leave on 11 February and is expected to include a man who arrived in the UK aged five.
In the Commons, Labour’s shadow home secretary Ms Abbott said there was “widespread concern”, saying the deportation flight “constitutes double jeopardy because the persons have already served an appropriate sentence for their crime”.
She added: “Many of the proposed deportees came here as children and have no memory of Jamaica.”
Ms Patel said every person on the flight had been convicted of a “serious offence and received a custodial sentence of 12 months or more”. Therefore under legislation introduced by a Labour government in 2007, she said, “a deportation order must be made”. There were cries of “shame” as Ms Patel left the chamber during Labour MP David Lammy’s urgent question on the subject.
‘I have no one in Jamaica’
Father-of-five Howard Ormsby is among those who are due to be deported on Tuesday.
He was jailed for 18 months after he was convicted of possession with intent to supply class A drugs and he was released in December.
“I came here at the age of 15 with my older sister and I’ve been here 18 years of my life,” the 32-year-old said, speaking to the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire show from a detention centre in Harmondsworth, near London Heathrow.
“I’ve never tried to deny the fact I’ve made a mistake, but everyone has a chance to right their wrongs.
“I have all my family here – I have no one in Jamaica.”
He said he believed that if he is sent to Jamaica he would be killed because of gang violence there.
Tajay Thompson is also facing deportation to Jamaica. He served half of a 15-month sentence in 2015 after he was convicted of possessing class A drugs with intent to supply at 17.
“I feel like I was born here. Jamaica is not my country,” Mr Thompson said, adding that he had no links to the Caribbean nation, which he had only visited twice since coming to the UK aged five.
“It’s not like I’m a rapist or a murderer, I’ve made a mistake when I was 17 and it’s now going to affect my whole life.”
The 23-year-old, who is living in south London, added that he was groomed into a gang as a teenager.
Junior Home Office minister Kevin Foster replied for the government, saying deportation orders were issued to “serious and persistent” foreign offenders, whether they were born in Jamaica, the United States or anywhere else. “It is criminality which matters, not nationality,” he said.
He said those on the flight had been sentenced to a total of more than 300 years in prison and had been convicted of offences including rape, rape of a child, serious drugs offences, firearms offences and violent crimes.
There were no British nationals on the flight, he said, and everyone was an adult.
But Mr Lammy criticised the “tone” struck by Mr Foster in his remarks, saying it has been less than two years since there was a consensus in the House of Commons about the unacceptable treatment of the descendants of the Windrush generation.
He accused ministers of “suppressing” a report into the scandal and of “disrespecting the contribution of West Indian, Caribbean and black people in this country”, asking when “will black lives matter once again”.
The Windrush scandal saw many of those who had arrived in Caribbean countries between 1958 and 1971 detained or deported despite having the right to live in the UK for decades.
The fallout prompted criticism of the government’s “hostile environment” approach to immigration and led to the resignation of Amber Rudd as home secretary in 2018.
Answering queries on the publication date of the Windrush report – known as the Lessons Learned Review – Mr Foster said as it was an independent review and ministers could not compel it to be produced by a particular date.
Earlier, more than 170 cross-party MPs said in a letter that they have “grave concerns” about the Home Office’s deportation plan and called on the government to cancel all further deportations until the Windrush report was published.
Labour MP Nadia Whittome, who organised the letter, said the government “risks repeating the mistakes of the Windrush scandal unless it cancels this flight”.