Campaigners from the Stop Deportation Network and the International Federation of Iraqi Refugees are blockading Colnbrook detention centre, near Heathrow airport, to stop 45 Iraqi refugees being forcibly deported to Iraqi Kurdistan on a specially chartered flight. Six protesters have encased their arms in glass and plastic tubes and concrete blocks, blocking the entrance to Colnbrook and Harmondsworth detention centres. The coaches to carry deportees to the airport have not been able to leave.
Dashty Jamal, secretary of the International Federation of Iraqi Refugees (IFIR), said: "Deportations to Iraq are inhumane and must be stopped. They place people and their families in great danger. Many of those who have been sent back are forced to live in hiding to avoid persecution by the Kurdistan Regional Government. IFIR has received reports of deportees who have committed suicide, been kidnapped or killed in car bombs. Nobody should be sent back to Iraqi Kurdistan."
The flight is thought to be carrying approximately 60 refused Iraqi refugees, with around 45 of them currently held at Colnbrook. More people are held in Brook House detention centre, near Gatwick airport. Typical of Iraq mass deportation flights, the time, airline and departure airport are not disclosed by the Home Office.
If it went ahead, the flight will be the 9th mass deportation flight to Iraqi Kurdistan in the last 10 months. Iraqis are also deported individually or in groups of two or three on commercial flights such as Royal Jordanian.
A similar mass deportation flight to Iraq in March this year was met by campaigners with a similar blockade of Tinsley House detention centre at Gatwick airport.
One of the Stop Deportation Network said: "Deportation charter flights such as this one are fast becoming the government's favoured way to deport those who have fallen foul of its macabre immigration controls. Every deportation is a violation of people's right to freedom of movement but these charter flights are a particularly sordid way to do that. On top of the trauma and hardship caused by deportation, these charter flights further undermine the legal rights of the deportees whose lives are torn apart. Many deportees have not exhausted all legal avenues available to them and have not had access to adequate legal representation as the emphasis is on filling the flight and getting rid of them as soon as possible and outside the public gaze."
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Photos available on request.
1. Stop Deportation is a loose network of groups and individuals who campaign and take action against deportation, with a focus on mass deportation flights.
2. As the government seeks to increase the number and frequency of deportations, it has started to increasingly use specially chartered flights to deport as many as 80 people at a time. In 2008 alone, there were 66 such flights, deporting a total of 1,529 people.
3. Details, pictures and video of the Tinsley blockade on 17th March 2009
can be found at http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2009/03/424608.html
4. According to Home Office figures, 632 people have been forcibly deported to Iraqi Kurdistan between 2005 and 2008. The International Federation of Iraqi Refugees estimates that the figure, with the monthly charter flights deporting 50 Iraqis at a time since the beginning of 2009, currently stand at approximately 900.
5. Deportation charter flights limit refugees‚ access to due legal process. The UK Border Agency's Enforcement Instructions and Guidance states that: "charter flights may be subject to different arrangements where it is considered appropriate because of the complexities, practicalities and costs of arranging an operation." Charter flight deportees are told that "removal will not necessarily be deferred in the event that a Judicial Review is lodged". The emphasis is on filling the flight rather than ensuring the appropriate legal avenues have been exhausted. In the case of Iraq charter flights, deportees and their representatives are not even told the date of the flight. On the day of the flight, they are woken up early in the morning and forced to switch off their phones so they are unable to instruct their solicitors to submit last-minute appeals.
6. Many of those deported had fled the KRG authorities, to whose mercy they are being sent back. Last month, a report by Amnesty International revealed "a pattern of abuses" committed by KRG security forces. A 2007 report by Human Rights Watch similarly revealed that KRG security forces "routinely torture and deny basic due-process rights to detainees." The Amnesty International report, 'Hope and Fear', is available at
http://www.amnesty.org.uk/news_details.asp?NewsID=18152. The Human Rights
Watch report, 'Caught in the Whirlwind', is available at
7. To operate a charter flight, the Home Office contracts a range of private companies. Airlines that are known to have been used include Hamburg International and Czech Airlines. Bus companies to drive people from detention to the airport have included WH Tours and Woodcock coaches. Private security companies used to escort deportees include Group 4 Securicor and SERCO.
8. Standard practice on charter flights, confirmed by people who have been deported, is for each deportee to be shadowed by at least two security guards, handcuffed and forced onto the plane under the threat of violence. Any disobedience or attempt to resist has been met with disproportionate force to 'restrain' the deportees. A mass deportation flight to Iraqi Kurdistan in September 2008 saw deportees who tried to leave the plane beaten by the security guards, with one man's head hit against a window of the plane smashing it. The flight was cancelled.
9. For more details on Iraq deportation charter flights, see:
All 6 arrested were released on unconditional bail.