Jamaicans who were granted last-minute reprieve from a deportation flight two weeks ago are still in detention and unable to reunite with their families, in what lawyers have said could be an unlawful move by the Home Office. The Independent has spoken to a number of men whose scheduled removal on 11 February was cancelled but who remain in immigration detention despite their removal being ruled unlawful by the courts.
The Court of Appeal ruled the day before the charter flight that the Home Office must not to deport 25 of the deportees on the grounds that they had been denied access to working sim cards at Heathrow detention facilities following a mobile phone signal outage that prevented them from consulting lawyers, in breach of government policy. One of these men, Reshawn Davis, 30, who has been in the UK since the age of 11 and has a seven-month-old British daughter, told The Independent that despite this he was still in detention and hadn’t been informed by the Home Office what was happening with his case.
The Jamaican national said: “I expected to be able to go home after I wasn’t on the charter flight, but no one has said anything to me. Even the officers are asking why I’m still here. I was put in here for a flight and I wasn’t on it, so why am I still here?” he said. “They said they’re reviewing certain people’s cases. They don’t even let anyone know whose cases they’re reviewing, what the next steps are, nothing like that. I’m just totally confused. Everyone is asking the same questions.”
Mr Davis, who was facing deportation on the basis that he was convicted for robbery 10 years ago under the now-unlawful “joint enterprise” rule – for which he spent two months in prison – said the most difficult thing about remaining in detention is being apart from his wife and daughter. “I’m starting to think my daughter is going to forget me. They came on the weekend and she was acting different like she didn’t know who I was. She knows my voice so I try to speak to her every day on the phone. But it really upsets me. My wife is depressed, it’s taking a toll on her,” he said.
He added: “I wake up every morning at 5am just looking at the wall thinking: ‘Wow, is this what life has come to?’ When you don’t know what’s going to happen but they have you here, it’s really frustrating. Since the flight, they haven’t said one word, they haven’t issued one letter or anything. It’s ridiculous. I’m missing my family. I just want to be with them. It’s really depressing. I don’t even like talking about it. It sends me to a different place.”
Another detainee, Echard Bepart-Woollett, 27, who came to Britain when he was eight and has two British children, said he too remained in Colnbrook removal centre despite being granted last-minute reprieve from being deported on 11 February. The Jamaican national, whose solicitors have accused the Home Office of unlawfully holding Mr Bepart-Woollett in detention, said: “I thought not being on that flight would’ve meant I’d be released. It feels like they’re trying to hold us in here to give them time to sort out another flight. It’s like they’re trying not to accept it when they’ve lost already. The worst thing is how my kids are feeling. I normally take them to netball and football. When they go to their games now their friends are asking where I am and they don’t know what to say. I’ve been trying to stay strong but it’s getting harder and harder. You can’t keep people locked in like this.”
Bella Sankey, director of Detention Action, said the fact that many of those who were not removed on the charter flight were still detained was testament to the UK’s indefinite detention system. “It puts abusive power in the hands of the Home Office, breaks with our best traditions and is deeply un-British. Parliamentarians will have the opportunity to change this when the Immigration Bill is published in a few weeks from now,” she said.
A number of people whose removal was cancelled have since been granted bail following intervention from solicitors. One of them was a vulnerable man who was released only on Tuesday despite having been admitted to hospital three times during his time in detention.
Georgina Banks, a caseworker at Duncan Lewis who worked on his case, said: “The Home Office shamelessly brought him to the airport by ambulance on the night of the flight but the High Court ordered a stay on removal. Today he will be released and be able to return to his family.” On the fact that many remain detained, Ms Banks said: “Without the specialist bail tribunal’s intervention, they remain locked up. There is no lawful basis justifying prolonged detention as their removal cannot take place within a reasonable timeframe.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We make no apology for seeking to remove dangerous foreign criminals and will continue to fight robustly to ensure they are removed as quickly as possible. The legal process for removing these criminals, which has included repeated appeals and judicial reviews, has already cost the British public tens of thousands of pounds.”
The Home Office said it was still seeking to deport all 25 men who were removed from the Jamaica flight.