A last-ditch legal attempt by two children to prevent many of those on a controversial Home Office deportation flight to Jamaica from flying on Wednesday has failed, just hours before the charter plane was expected to take off.
The children, two siblings, who brought the case on behalf of their father, argued that current deportation policy was unlawful because the Home Office has failed to properly assess the best interests of children whose parents it seeks to deport.
Although the children’s father was removed from the flight in a separate legal action, permission to assess the best interests of all the children whose fathers were due to fly before the flight took off was refused.
The charity Detention Action, which intervened in the case, said some of the behaviour displayed by children facing enforced separation from their fathers for at least the next 10 years, includes bed-wetting, hitting their head against the wall, low mood and suicidal ideation.
Many of the men due to board the plane were in a distraught state at the prospect of leaving their families and children in the UK.
One told the Guardian: “I’ve lived here for 20 years. What the Home Office is doing to us is like torture. They are killing us. My life is here, my kids are here. I can’t bring myself to tell my kids I’m being deported. I’m not a murderer, I’m not a rapist. I made a mistake by selling drugs.”
The children were hoping to secure an injunction preventing the flight from leaving until an assessment had been carried out into all the children about to be separated from their fathers. The case went to the court of appeal on Tuesday for an out of hours hearing and concluded around midnight. Although the application for an injunction did not succeed, the case will continue.
In February of this year, the government deported 17 British residents to Jamaica. The Home Office had planned to make 50 deportations via the flight, but the majority were stopped by a court of appeal injunction due to access to justice concerns.
On Tuesday evening detainees were taken from three Home Office detention centres – Pennine House in Manchester, Colnbrook, near Heathrow Airport, and Brook House near Gatwick Airport. The largest number who boarded the plane came from Brook House. Many due to fly were removed from the plane following successful last-minute legal appeals relating to their individual cases. But about 20 are thought to have boarded buses taking them to the flight.
It is thought that nobody who arrived in the UK under the age of 12 was on the flight after a deal was quietly agreed between the Home Office and Jamaica not to remove people who came to the UK as children, according to Jamaica high commissioner Seth Ramocan.
Charter flights to Jamaica are particularly controversial because of the Windrush scandal and because some people earmarked for deportation came to the UK as children and had families there.
A range of protest letters were organised. One was from 82 black public figures – including the author Bernardine Evaristo, model Naomi Campbell and historian David Olusoga – urging airlines not to carry up to 50 Jamaicans on the Home Office deportation flight.
Several NGOs, dozens of solicitors and barristers including 11 QCs, signed a letter saying the deportation flight was unlawful, unjust and racist.
More than 60 MPs and peers signed a letter to the home secretary, Priti Patel, calling for the deportation flight to be cancelled.
Windrush lawyer Jacqueline McKenzie condemned the Home Office decision to charter the deportation flight.
“Deportation is at the pinnacle of the hostile environment,” she said. “It requires legislative reform and should feature in the work that the Home Office has to do following the Windrush Lessons Learned review.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We make no apology for seeking to remove dangerous foreign criminals to keep the public safe. Each week we remove foreign criminals from the UK to different countries who have no right to be here, this flight is no different. The people being detained for this flight include convicted murderers and rapists.”