In a tense showdown highlighting the controversial policies surrounding the deportation of asylum seekers, 11 individuals slated for a deportation flight to Rwanda took the dramatic step of initiating a hunger strike, protesting their imminent removal. The incident, which unfolded at Gatwick Immigration Removal Centre, is emblematic of broader concerns about the UK’s deportation policy.
An annual study by the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) for the Gatwick Centre has shed light on numerous troubling aspects of the deportation process, particularly to Rwanda. At the heart of the issue lies the government’s belief that these removals will dissuade unauthorized crossings via small boats.
However, in a twist that has amplified concerns, the maiden deportation flight, set to depart from Boscombe Down Ministry of Defence site in Wiltshire, was grounded by a decisive intervention from the European court last June. The court, questioning the legal standing of the policy, has spurred the government to contest this decision at the Supreme Court in October.
The IMB report unambiguously articulated its anxieties, stating that the current policy, if fully actioned, holds the potential for “real harm” and warned that the methodology of deporting individuals to Rwanda was riddled with “unacceptable compromises to safety.”
The gravity of the situation is underscored by the plight of detainees at the Gatwick centre. Out of the 100 individuals who received Home Office notifications of potential forced removal to Rwanda, only one made it as far as the airport – where he experienced a severe panic attack.
Another glaring instance of potential policy missteps occurred when removal directions were sent out over the Queen’s Jubilee weekend in May. This timing choice has raised eyebrows, given the implications it might have had for detainees seeking legal counsel.
Earlier findings from the IMB’s charter flight monitoring team, disclosed in June 2023, further compounded the concerns. Notably, two of the seven individuals the Home Office attempted to deport to Rwanda were under constant observation due to potential suicide risks, with one being confined with a waist restraint belt.
The use of force on three of these seven individuals and the lack of medical assistance for another have intensified the scrutiny of the process. Another poignant moment captured a man praying fervently on the tarmac, convinced of the plane’s imminent departure, while two others, overwhelmed with dread, were restrained.
Addressing the burgeoning concerns, a Home Office representative stated their unwavering commitment to the welfare and safety of those in their charge. They further emphasized the robust safeguarding measures in place, ensuring all, especially the vulnerable, receive humane treatment and have access to requisite support, including legal counsel, during detention.