When John dropped his children off at school last week, he didn’t think it might be the last time he would see them.
John is one of up to 50 people facing a deportation flight to Jamaica next Wednesday.
After he dropped his eight and five year olds off at school, he made his weekly journey from Oxfordshire to west London. There he had to sign on at the Home Office’s Eaton House.
John’s pregnant partner Emma and his 12 year old daughter waited in the car park outside. Inside, immigration officials had already detained him.
“You’re not allowed to say goodbye,” John told Socialist Worker. “They’re not allowed to come into the building.
“I had to ring them from inside to tell them what was going on.”
Emma was used to taking John to Eaton House every Wednesday. “It’s always been a struggle,” she told Socialist Worker. “It’s the fear and the tension. None of us can sleep on a Tuesday night.
“When we got there, my 12 year old asked, ‘How long is daddy going to be?’ and I said it normally takes two minutes. I noticed 15 minutes had passed, then an hour had passed and he still didn’t pick up the phone.”
Emma said every time that the process takes longer “I start to panic because the same thing happened in January”.
The Home Office tried to deport John on a charter flight to Jamaica in February. A legal challenge succeeded in the Court of Appeal at the last minute, meaning some people weren’t put on the plane.
Eventually, Emma got through to Eaton House and found out he’d been detained for the second time. She then had to drive home. Emma said, “My daughter was asking, ‘Where is daddy?’ I didn’t know what to say.
“I had to get my mum to pick up the other two children from school. They were also asking, ‘Where’s daddy?’ because he normally picks them up.
“I’ve had to say daddy is working in London for a bit, because I don’t know what to say to them. My youngest is sleeping in my room because she’s scared.”
John said the situation is harder than the last time he was detained because of coronavirus. “My kids would have come to see me, but there are no visits in the detention centre because of the virus,” he explained.
“I speak to them, yes, but it’s very difficult. They are just asking questions and it’s really affecting them. The youngest is only five years old. I don’t really know how to explain it to them.”
John fled persecution in Jamaica in 2002. He’d been running a minicab business the previous year. A gang that had demanded protection money cut his wrists and shot him in the head as he tried to get away. “I’ve got all the scars on my body to show it,” he said.
John said those people would “definitely” come after him in Jamaica. “My life would 100 percent be in danger,” he said.
John came to Britain and had indefinite leave to remain between 2004 and 2015, when he went to prison for three years on a drugs charge.
“We had a restaurant and drugs were found in the premises,” explained Emma. “But it wasn’t him. And he’s done his time—being punished for a second time is not fair. It’s heartbreaking. They’ve been treated like animals.”
John and Emma’s story shows up the brutality of Britain’s racist immigration system of detention and deportation. Its terror is designed to make life hard for migrants and paint them as the enemy.
Even in the middle of a pandemic, the Tories are determined to go through with the deportation.
Ministers claim they’re deporting “serious criminals” on the Jamaica charter flights. This is part of a divide and rule strategy to paint some migrants as “good” and others as “bad”—and reinforces racism against all migrants.
Anti-racists must fight all deportations.
‘Signing-in is tense. You’re terrified they’ll take you’
Margaret “can’t forgive the police for using my son as a weapon” to get to her partner Chris.
On the night of 19 January, cops and border guards came to snatch Chris from their south London home. “We were all in bed,” Margaret told Socialist Worker. “It was only myself and Chris in the house, my son had asked to go to a friend’s house.
“Around six in the morning, the door knocked and knocked. I jumped up, looked out of the window and saw flashing lights.
“I went to my son’s bedroom and shouted out of the window. There was one officer who was saying come down for a minute. I was saying, ‘What’s happened to my son?’ I thought, please let it not be a stabbing.
“She said, ‘Yes, it’s your son, come down and I’ll tell you what happened to him.’.”
When Margaret opened the door, she was “barged through, pushed aside”. “All these men marched in, grabbed Christopher, brought him to the ground, and handcuffed him,” she said.
“They used my child as a weapon to get into my home. I can’t get over it.”
Chris said an immigration raid feels “like a robbery” with “15-20 people barging into your house”.
“They ran in, flung me on the ground, put a knee on my back,” he told Socialist Worker. “To get one person—one person.
“You’re in a hostile environment. I will never forget that day, it will never come out of my head.”
Chris was taken to London Bridge, then on to Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre near London Heathrow Airport.
Like John, a legal challenge stopped Chris’ deportation. But security guards burst into his cell—despite the legal ruling—and put him onto a minibus to Doncaster Sheffield Airport in South Yorkshire.
Chris was driven all the way to the airport only to turn around at the last minute. He sat inside a small cell for the whole round trip—around 15 hours.
Since Chris was released from the detention centre in March, he has lived with the daily fear that he could be deported.
He explained how signing on at the Home Office “makes your whole body tense”. “You walk in like you don’t feel nothing inside,” he said. “You’re terrified they’re going to take you.”
Chris added that news of the new charter flight this week “properly shook me up”. “The whole of last week, I couldn’t sleep properly,” he said. “I’d be in the sitting room at 1, 2, 3 o’clock in the morning wearing a full suit of clothes. I’m thinking, ‘There’s going to be a knock, I have to be ready.’
“It’s not going away until the Home Office says here is the visa.
“This is how they treat people. It breaks me down. I have flashbacks of them coming to the house, flashbacks of the prison van. I will never forget it.”
‘They treated me like the most dangerous person in the world’
Rayan Crawford doesn’t “really go out of the house” since he was deported to Jamaica in February.
Rayan suffers from a rare bone condition called Blount’s Disease and inflammatory arthritis. But he hasn’t had regular medication. “It’s causing pain,” Rayan told Socialist Worker. “I can’t really be up and down, walking about.
“There is no free medication in Jamaica—even if you want to see a doctor, you have to pay for it. There was a charity organisation, but it said it could only give medication to me for the month.”
Rayan, who came to Britain at the age of 12, lived with his partner Jana and their two sons in Tower Hamlets, east London. He had indefinite leave to remain until the Home Office sent him a deportation order in March 2018.
Rayan was serving a short prison sentence for a minor burglary offence.
In his subsequent battles over deportation, a judge claimed it wouldn’t be “unduly harsh” to separate Rayan and his children.
“The pain of separation would be mitigated by the Appellant being able to maintain regular contact with the children by the use of social media and through face to face contact on Skype,” the judge said.
Jana said Home Office officials should “come and move into my house” to see the real impact. “I have to see and feel it, not the Home Office, not the judge,” she told Socialist Worker.
“I have to deal with it and witness it. I have to see my children hurt.
“My children always had their father and one day he just vanished. He never missed out, even when he was in prison, we visited him on the weekends, birthdays, Christmas, Father’s Day and Mother’s Day.
“Ray literally used to check my older son’s homework. The other day the English teacher called me and said the older one hasn’t done any homework for months.
“When I asked him, he denied it to my face. He never used to lie to me.”
For Rayan, the impact “is quite dramatic, but not something I could share with anybody”. “I speak to them when I can,” he said. “But on a day to day basis? I can’t really do that. The phone service is really bad.”
Rayan has likened the deportation process to a “kidnapping”.
Once he was released from prison, Rayan had to sign on once a week at the Home Office branch in London Bridge. On Monday 27 January he rushed out of the house in the morning, telling Jana he was worried about being late.
At around 2pm, Rayan called to say he’d been detained.
He was held at Brook House detention centre, near London Gatwick Airport.
On 11 February, Rayan was lying in his cell. “The next thing I know,” he said, “the door just flies open and I see five guys with riot shields running. They’re still jumping at you, putting you in handcuffs, even when you’re not putting up any resistance.”
Rayan described how, being taken out of the detention centre, they “strap your feet to the next person’s feet, hands handcuffed behind your back”.
“On the minibus you’re sitting in a seat with a security guard next to you,” he said.
“If you want to go to the toilet, the security guard has to come with you. They don’t tell you where you’re going, and from when they detain you in the cell, you’re not allowed contact with anybody, not even a solicitor.
“They treated me like I’m the most dangerous person in the world.”