Behind the brutality of Britain’s immigration system lies a web a subcontractors that profit from deportations.
It begins with the firms that run Britain’s 11 detention centres and imprison people before deportation—Serco, G4s Mitie and the GEO Group.
The Home Office then asks Carlson Wagonlit (CWT), a travel agents for the rich and powerful, to arrange deportation flights. It picks a charter airline to transport desperate people to danger (see below and right).
Christopher, who is being held at Harmondsworth immigration detention centre, near Heathrow, was almost taken on the “charter flight” to Jamaica last Tuesday.
A Court of Appeal order blocked the deportation of some people from Harmondsworth and nearby Colnbrook at the last minute.
That didn’t stop subcontractors taking Christopher and others covered by the order to Doncaster Sheffield Airport for removal—only to turn around once they got there.
Christopher spoke to Socialist Worker about how he’s experienced Britain’s detention and deportation regime at almost every stage.
“Between 10 to 12 o’clock at night eight to ten men came to my room and said, ‘You have to come with us to the charter flight,’” he said.
“I knew I wasn’t on their flight, but I wasn’t going to fight.”
Every time Christopher tried to object to his treatment, he says officers said it was “against the rules”. “I was on speaker phone calling my partner Margaret and my solicitor as I got my shoes on,” he explained. “They say there’s no paperwork that I shouldn’t be on the flight and that I had to go with them.
“I got through to my solicitor, I begged them, ‘Speak to my solicitor,’ but they said they are not obliged to speak to them.
“They said, ‘He’s on the list—he’s on the flight.’.”
Christopher says he and three others were led to a “Serco prison van” with four tiny cells where he was kept from “around 1am to 2pm”. “When I looked right, I saw the door,” he said. “When I looked left, I saw the other side.
“If it turned left, it bashed one of my shoulders, if it turned the other way, my other shoulder.”
Christopher and the other detainees were not allowed out of the prison van cells for the whole journey.
“I kept begging, ‘Can one of you take us for a pee outside or to pace inside the vehicle.’,” he said.
“They just kept saying, ‘No, no, no—it’s against the rules. But it’s not against the rules to deny us human rights?”
After the van got back to Harmondsworth from the airport at around 12 noon, Christopher says they were kept inside until 2pm. “They said they were too busy inside the centre to let us in,” he said.
“And then at reception we had to book in again in because everything for us was scrapped.
“It was quarter to six before we were finished.”
Christopher’s plight is just a snapshot in the everyday brutality inflicted inside Britain’s immigration system.
Charter flight profits soar
Charter airlines like to present themselves as providing planes for the superrich, celebrities and holiday makers.
They also make money from racist deportations.
Not content with running the European Union’s (EU) deportations, Evelop Airlines lends its services to the British government.
The charter airline’s plane was used for the deportation flight to Jamaica last week.
Last December a joint venture between Evelop and Air Nostrum was awarded a contract worth £10 million by the Spanish ministry of the interior.
This includes deportations of migrants for Frontex—the EU’s border guards service.
The British government’s preferred charter airline is Titan Airways.
It was contracted for the first charter flight to Jamaica since the Windrush scandal in February 2019.
Titan Airways was the company responsible for the deportation flight blocked by the Stansted 15 group of protesters in March 2017.
The flight would have carried 50 people to Nigeria and Ghana without the direct action.
In 2019 its gross profits increased to £12.3 million and its highest paid director received £181,641.
Lock-ups get bosses loaded
Britain’s immigration detention centres mean big business for outsourcers—and brutality for detainees. One, Mitie, has run Harmondsworth and Colnbrook, near London Heathrow Airport, on a £180 million eight-year deal since 2014.
While bosses rake in profits, Christopher said, “We are living with rats, pigeons and bed bugs in the centre. Everyone I know has bites.
“There’s a hole near the sink on the second floor where the rats come in, about ten or twenty feet near where they make food I saw a rat.”
Mitie has expanded its empire into other immigration services. From May 2018, it took over a ten-year contract worth “an estimated £528 million” from fellow outsourcer Tascor.
The “escorting” work includes security on charter flights booked for mass deportations. It also guards detainees who are removed on scheduled flights and transports people between facilities.
This close-knit relationship between outsourcer and state in immigration was solidified under Tony Blair’s government. It bought together Labour’s zeal for privatisation and obsession with clamping down on asylum seekers, opening Yarl’s Wood, Brooke House and other centres.
Getting ‘value for money’
Wrecking people’s lives can be expensive. Fortunately for the Home Office, Carlson Wagonlit (CWT)—owned by a US conglomerate—has been helping it cut down on its costs since 2004.
Its deportation contract—worth £5.7 million—was renewed in 2017 and will last until 2024.
A report by the Independent Inspector of Borders and Immigration from 2015 describes how cost-cutting is at the centre of its business model.
Outsourcer Tascor and CWT “had access to a Best Value Calculator (BVC)” that had been “developed jointly” to “check and consider travel options”.
Tascor services have since been handed over to Mitie (see left).
“CWT enters the details of each booking, whether received directly or via Tascor, into a BVC,” the report said.
This takes into account “variables such as the cost of different ticket types, as well as representative detention and escort costs for different dates or routes”.
And then “CWT provisionally books the cheapest option identified by the BVC”.