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UK deports foreign-born convicts to Jamaica: a national security necessity or human rights issue?

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A flight chartered by the UK government has deported 17 people to Jamaica in a case that has sparked human rights concerns and evoked memories of the Windrush scandal.

More than 50 people were originally scheduled to be aboard the flight on Tuesday but a court order called for many to be removed after it was found they did not have sufficient access to legal teams.

They specifically did not have access to working sim cards after a network outage, the court found, which would have been vital for them to contact their lawyers.

Despite this order for many to be removed — including a last-minute government appeal rejected — the flight went ahead.

In response to the scheduled flight, a number of people gathered outside Boris Johnson's residence in Downing Street on Monday night, calling for the prime minister to "respect human rights".

But why has this case specifically caused such a divide between the British government, legal teams and human rights campaigners?

The government's position: 'They are serious offenders'

The British government maintains it has a right to carry out the deportations as all those involved are foreign-born and have been convicted of serious crimes.

In parliament earlier this week, Home Secretary Priti Patel said: "Every person on this flight has been convicted of a serious offence and received a custodial sentence of 12 months or more."

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
Priti Patel says everyone on the flight had been convited of a 'serious offence'Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reservedFrank Augstein

The Home Office said on Tuesday the 17 people deported had been convicted of crimes including rape, violent crimes and drug offences.

Breaking this down further, the statement said two had been convicted of rape, three of violent crime, eight of drugs offences and three of robbery and firearms charges.

One had been convicted of burglary.

The government also maintains it has acted within the premise of the UK Borders Act, which was brought in by the opposition-led Labour government in 2007.

The human rights position: 'They have served their time'

Many of those being deported were brought to the UK when they were children and, therefore, it is argued they have little or no connection to Jamaica.

Some have also already served their prison sentences for the crimes committed, meaning deportation could count as a second punishment — or "double jeopardy" — according to Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott.

Speaking in parliament, she said: "Many of the proposed deportees came here as children and have no memory of Jamaica."

"These deportations constitute double jeopardy because the persons have already served an appropriate sentence for their crime."

In a letter signed by more than 170 MPs, the government was also asked to suspend the flight until it could be confirmed — among other things — that the safety of the individuals could be guaranteed.

Reshawn Davis

Looking into specific cases of those scheduled to board the flight, it was found that some were also one-time offenders who had committed a crime years earlier.

Reshawn Davis was brought to the UK from Jamaica in 2001 when he was 11-years-old and held indefinite leave to remain in the country, according to his local MP Dawn Butler.

He was convicted in 2010 — when he was 19 — of two counts of robbery involving the theft of two mobile phones.

Now 30 years old, Davis is not believed to have re-offended and had since been employed and helped out as a football coach.

He has also married and has a six-month-old child.

Butler, who wrote a letter to Patel outlining the father-of-one's case, said she felt the decision to deport him was "entirely disproportionate" and would "tragically tear apart" a family.

She then said she believed Davis' case did not fit the Home Office narrative of deporting "hardened criminals" and urged the flight to be suspended.

Other cases reported in the British media have surfaced similar stories of people who came to the UK as young as five years old and now being deported for one-off historic crimes - such as drug possession.

AP
Some of the Jamaican men who sailed to Britain on the Empire WindrushAP

Echoes of the Windrush scandal

Comparisons have been drawn between the government's action on Tuesday and the Windrush scandal in which immigrants from Caribbean countries were found to be wrongly denied rights and faced illegal deportation from the UK.

Named after the MV Empire Windrush ship, the Windrush generation were invited to the UK after the Second World War to help combat labour shortages.

Labour MP David Lammy said on Tuesday: "The government is deporting people who arrived in the UK as young as 2, often for one-time drug offences.

"The lessons from Windrush have not been learned. Lives are being ruined because we don't remember our history."

READ MORE:

UK apologises to Windrush immigrants wrongly declared illegal

Amber Rudd resigns over Windrush scandal

UK destroyed immigration documents, then sent deportation notices

But what now?

In a statement on Tuesday, the Home Office said it would make "no apology whatsoever" for the deportation of 17 "serious foreign criminals".

It added that all 17 had a combined sentence length of 75 years, as well as a life sentence.

"We will be urgently pursuing the removal of those who were prevented from boarding the flight due to a legal challenge over a mobile network failure," the statement concluded.

Meanwhile, Toufique Hossain, the director of public law and immigration at Duncan Lewis Solicitors, told Euronews the firm was calling for the immediate release of those who were not deported on Tuesday's flight.

He added: "[The government] has already stated in the course of last night’s proceedings that another charter flight cannot be scheduled for some time."

The company, which is representing many of those at risk of deportation, also said it was "devastated" at knowing that an "unknown number" of people were removed from the country.

"We also consider it reprehensible that once again resort to the Court of Appeal was necessary at the very last minute to ensure that the government respected human rights," it said.

Hossain confirmed that all further court challenges would continue.

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