Seventeen held after activists prevent departure of flight taking asylum seekers and other migrants to Nigeria and Ghana
Police have arrested 17 anti-deportation protesters who locked themselves to an aircraft at Stansted airport preventing a charter flight due to remove asylum seekers and other migrants from the UK from taking off.
The protesters locked themselves on to the wing of a Titan Airways flight and refused to move. All 17 protesters involved with the action have been arrested on suspicion of aggravated trespass and are now in police custody.
Essex police said they had received reports that a group of protesters gained access to Stansted airport’s airside at around 9.30pm on Tuesday night. A spokesman said: “We were contacted by Stansted airport after protesters entered and locked themselves onto an aircraft destined for Nigeria. Officers remain at the scene to carry out further investigations. Enquiries are ongoing.”
Campaigners said the protest was to stop a Home Office “mass deportation charter flight” from the Essex airport to Nigeria and Ghana. They said that deportees on the flight included people who feared for their lives and had claimed asylum.
Flights were temporarily suspended at the airport on Tuesday evening after the group entered a secure area and erected a blockade near a non-commercial runway. Police quickly contained the incident and flights later resumed.
It is believed to be the first time that protesters have got onto an airport runway and physically prevented a Home Office charter flight from departing. Dozens of asylum seekers and other migrants who were due to be deported were returned to immigration removal centres.
One of the people due to be put onto the flight was disabled trafficking victim Lovelyn Edobor. The Home Office had unsuccessfully attempted to remove her on Saturday evening. She complained that she was placed in a waist belt restraint and dragged along by the chain ‘like a goat’. Her lawyers mounted a last-minute legal challenge on Tuesday night and a high court judge ruled that she should not be put on the plane.
The activists were from three groups – End Deportations, Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants (LGSMigrants) and Plane Stupid, an environmental and social justice direct action group.
One of the protesters at the scene, Emma Hughes of End Deportations, said: “This is an unprecedented victory in the fight against mass deportations, which are racist, violent and kill people … This is just the beginning – we’ll keep fighting until the government agrees to stop charter flights and mass deportations once and for all.”
One woman who was due to be put on the flight, in an article on the Detained Voices website, said: “My ex-husband said he knows I am being deported. He is waiting for me. He is planning to kill me. If he kills me who will I look after my children?”
A male deportee said: “I have been in this country for almost 18 years. My family and my life is here in the UK. If they take me back to Ghana I will kill myself.”
Sam Jones from LGSMigrants said: “For too long the government has kept these brutal mass deportation flights under wraps. The UK government is snatching people from their beds in the dead of night, handcuffing them and forcing them on to planes with no witnesses. I don’t think that’s the kind of society most of us want to live in. We must stop these violent mass deportations now.”
Susan James from Plane Stupid said: “Mass deportations like the one we stopped tonight are immoral, unfair and illegal. I don’t want to stay silent in the face of mass deportations that are deliberately rushed and secretive.”
Since 2002 the Home Office has organised mass deportations on charter flights every few months. The flights are secretive and depart from undisclosed locations in the middle of the night.
People are given little advance notice of their removal often meaning they have just a few days to fight for their right to stay in the UK. Cuts to legal aid means that those with children or partners in the UK who have valid human rights-based claims to stay can’t access free legal help and often can’t afford to pay private lawyers to fight their cases.
Last year more than 1,536 people were deported from the UK on charter flights to Albania, Jamaica, Pakistan, Nigeria and Ghana
Home Office figures show last year over 50% of people who were put on charter flights were taken off thanks to last-minute legal challenges.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We do not comment on operational activity. We respect everyone’s right to peaceful protest but we are clear that removal is an essential element of an effective immigration system.
“We expect those with no legal basis to remain in the UK to leave voluntarily but if they do not, we will seek to enforce their departure.”