The protest led to some people being able to stay permanently in the UK
For peacefully stopping a deportation flight from taking off, fifteen people were found guilty yesterday of breaching an obscure and rarely-used piece of anti-terror legislation.
Thirty-three year old Jo Ram is one of the Stansted 15, a group of campaigners who went to Stansted Airport in March 2017 to stop a Titan Airways plane deporting up to 60 people to Nigeria and Ghana.
On the day after she was found guilty of terror-related charges because of this protest, she told Left Foot Forward that she does not regret it.
“We couldn’t have not acted knowing what we did: that people due to be deported that night were being deported to their deaths.”
Specifically, the protestors knew of three people who had told the Detained Voices blog that they feared death or prosecution if they were deported back to Nigeria or Ghana.
One of these was a lesbian who was claiming asylum because in some states of Nigeria homosexuality is punishable by death. She feared that, if she was deported, either the authorities would find her or that her ex-husband, who she had been forced to marry, would. He had said that he would take revenge by murdering her. On the Detained Voices, she wrote:
“If he kills me- who will look after my children? They rely on me. They should give me and my children a life. They should spare my life because of my children. I am begging.”
Also scheduled to be deported on that flight were two people who had been trafficked to the UK against their will and were being sent back to the country they were trafficked from. According to Ram, people who are sent back to where they are trafficked from have a high chance of falling back into the hands of traffickers.
At the time, the Home Office operated a policy labelled ‘deport first, appeal later’ which has subsequently been ruled to be illegal. This meant that many of those on board will have had active appeals against the Home Office’s deportation decision but were being deported anyway.
According to Ram:
“An appeal not just a technicality. It really matters. About 43% of initial Home Office decisions are overturned by immigration tribunals. This shows that the Home Office is not actually making proper decisions in the first place. The appeal is an important check in the system against improper Home Office decisions and so people have the right to have their appeal heard before they are given deportation orders.”
Knowing that peoples’ lives would be in danger if the flight was allowed to take off, the 15 protesters entered a remote corner of Stansted Airport while catering supplies were being loaded onto the Titan Airways plane.
Wearing high-visibility jackets, they approached the stationary plane and lay down around its wheels locked together with arm tubes. Security noticed and the flight was cancelled.
The people due to be deported were still being processed in the airport at the time. According to one of them, when they found out the protestors had stopped the flight, most whooped with joy.
Twenty-one months later, eleven of them, including the two trafficking victims, are still in the United Kingdom. Two of them have been granted leave to remain – meaning they can stay in the United Kingdom permanently.
One of the men with leave to remain, wrote anonymously for the Guardian about how the protestors had given him the chance to see his child be born and to stay with his mum, his partner and his children in the UK – where he has lived since 2004.
Ram said it was “incredibly cruel” that he was being deported when his partner was pregnant. “Getting a guilty verdict almost pales in comparison to having met this person and knowing how much it has meant to him to be with his family,” she said.
Unfortunately though, not all the people due to be deported have been so lucky. According to Ram, the protestors don’t know what has happened to the Nigerian lesbian. “She may be in the UK,” Ram said, “we hope so but we fear she isn’t and has disappeared/come to harm in Nigeria.”
The protestors themselves were arrested and charged with an obscure offence which was brought in to stop terrorism in the wake of the Lockerbie bombing, when an aeroplane was bombed in 1988.
Ram said it has only been used once in its thirty year history and that the Attorney General’s Office and the Crown Prosecution Service has some serious questions to answer over why it decided to use anti-terror legislation against peaceful protestors. She said:
“It’s basically an attempt to squash protest but we are hoping to take this to appeal and have our questions about why this charge was used answered and hope the verdict is overturned.”
Having been found guilty by a jury at Chelmsford Crown Court, the protestors will be sentenced on February 4 and are encouraging supporters to protest outside the court on that day.
In response to the protests, the government’s deportation strategy seems to have changed with military bases being used rather than civilian airports. In 2017, the Home Office ordered five deportation flights to West Africa from a military base called RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire.
Commenting on this, Ram said:
“The Stansted flight was in a remote part of Stansted. It was going in the middle of the night and it was really under the cover of darkness and we found something the Home Office wanted to keep hidden. That’s why they shifted it to a military base now because we found their location.
There are questions that the Government will need to answer: why are deportation flights happening in secret? Is it because they don’t want people to find out what actually happens on deportation flights, for example these deportees being accompanied by two security guards and shackled with wrist and arm restraints?
The detainees have described this as an incredibly inhuman experience. What is the government trying to hide?”
The End Deportations group has organised a protest outside the Home Office in London this evening to protest the Stansted 15’s convictions and to “demand an end to brutal deportation flights, inhumane indefinite detention, and the hostile environment”. They have also called for a solidarity demo outside Chelmsford Crown Court in Essex when they are sentenced on February 4. You can donate to the group’s court costs here.
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