Jamaica calls for deportation flight from UK to be halted over Covid fears

Diane Taylor and Amelia Gentleman (The Guardian, 10 Aug 2021) write that Jamaica’s “High Commissioner urges Home Office to stop flight after outbreak among those due to be onboard.”

The Jamaican government has called on the Home Office to halt a controversial deportation flight to the island nation scheduled to leave on Wednesday due to concerns over “importing” the Delta variant of Covid, the Guardian has learned.

A flight is scheduled to take off from Birmingham airport at 1am with about 25 Jamaican nationals expected to be onboard. Many of those due to be removed have convictions for drug offences, some relatively minor ones and some more major.

It is understood many of those due to board the flight have not been deemed dangerous in assessments by Home Office officials. Many have British children and some have partners who are key workers, such as nurses for the NHS.

The flight has been beset with problems, including claims by lawyers that one man, Sanjay McLean, 41, has a right to British citizenship under Windrush rules as his father, Alpheus Thompson, arrived in the UK from Jamaica in December 1958 and became a British citizen. McLean received a conviction for actual bodily harm in 2014.

There have been at least two Covid cases confirmed among Jamaicans due to board the flight at Colnbrook immigration removal centre near Heathrow where the majority due to fly are being held. Some of the others were asked to isolate after close contact with those who had tested positive.

Several people deported to Jamaica last December were found to have Covid.

The Jamaican high commissioner is among a number of senior government officials to have sent an urgent letter to the Home Office just hours before the Jamaicans are due to be collected from detention centres to be taken to the airport, calling for the flight to be halted due to concerns about the Covid cases and spread of the Delta variant of the virus.

The Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) has raised concerns over Covid infection control during pre-flight procedures. The IMB pointed out that being tested for Covid prior to boarding a charter flight is not mandatory, although temperatures are taken and masks are offered to all of those being removed.

Lou Lockhart-Mummery, the chair of the IMB’s charter flight monitoring team, told the Guardian: “We have raised concerns with the Home Office about poor operation of social distancing measures during the pre-flight procedures: the collection, muster and search processes.”

Escorts who work for the Home Office contractors Mitie have raised concerns about having to remove detainees, some of whom have refused Covid tests and have refused to wear masks. They have also expressed concern about a lack of compensation if they are forced to isolate due to Covid cases on flights. Covid cases have been confirmed on several recent summer deportation flights including a flight to Zimbabwe last month.

The Home Office and Mitie both said robust measures were in place to protect escorts and detainees from Covid. [. . .]

[Photo above by Mark Kerrison/Alamy: Colnbrook immigration removal centre near Heathrow, where the majority due to fly are being held.] For full article, see https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/aug/10/jamaica-calls-deportation-flight-from-uk-halted-covid-fears

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