UK proceeds with deportation flight to Jamaica despite backlash

Flight with about 20 people takes off, after legal battle and calls to halt deportations due to civil rights concerns.

    The United Kingdom government has proceeded with a deportation flight to Jamaica with what it calls "foreign national offenders" on board, against the backdrop of a legal battle and strong backlash from civil rights organisations.

    On Monday evening, Court of Appeal judge Lady Justice Simler ordered the Home Office not to carry out the scheduled deportation of some people amid concerns that mobile phone outages had prevented them from having access to legal advice while in detention in two centres near Heathrow Airport. 

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    She said those detainees should not be removed unless the Home Office is satisfied they "had access to a functioning, non-O2 Sim card on or before February 3".

    On Tuesday morning, a Home Office spokesman said: "We make no apology for trying to protect the public from serious, violent and persistent foreign national offenders.

    "The court ruling does not apply to all of the foreign national offenders due to be deported and we are therefore proceeding with the flight."

    The case has provoked angry reactions, coming at a time when the Windrush scandal is still fresh in everyone's memory. 

    Labour Party Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott said some of the detainees arrived in the UK as children and "have no memory" of Jamaica.

    A report commissioned by the Home Office, which was leaked last year, reportedly advised the government to consider ending the deportation of foreign-born offenders who arrived in the UK as children.

    Earlier reports said 56 people would be deported, but a smaller number left early on Tuesday, leading some to believe the government had respected the court order.

    In an interview with Sky News on Tuesday as he defended the move, Chancellor Sajid Javid said he did not know the exact number of people deported, "but I think it's around 20, above 20".

    He added: "There is no connection between the Windrush generation and this flight ... every single person on the flight is a foreign national offender, they are not British, they are not members of the Windrush generation and they are all guilty of serious crimes, of receiving custodial sentences of at least 12 months."

    Al Jazeera's Nadim Baba, reporting from London, said: "We don't exactly know who has gone and who is here.

    "We have spoken to one detainee who came under that court order on Monday night, who says he is very depressed. He has been in and out of detention because of his immigration status after serving 15 months in jail for a drugs offence, which he committed when he was 17 years old. He is saying he's not a danger to British society, and more than that he has no family to go back to in Jamaica."

    "He is very worried if he does get put on a flight, he will be destitute when he gets there."

    Bella Sankey, of Detention Action, said the campaign group believed that some of the people who were due for deportation were not on the flight because they were covered by the court order.

    She tweeted: "We understand that some, possibly all, of these individuals may have been ultimately removed from the flight but we are currently trying to clarify this."

    Earlier, Sankey said removing those detainees covered by the order would have meant the Home Office was breaking the law.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies