Twenty-eight men and one woman arrived in Kingston, Jamaica, yesterday on a deportation flight from the UK arranged by the Home Office to a nervous reception from many in the city.
Media reports of their arrival have put local people on edge. “This happens every month: where are we gonna put these people?” a security guard at the airfield asked.
Local television news has taken the line that the plane did not contain any of the Windrush generation, but rather serious criminals.
One commentator, Percy LaTouche from the Jamaica Association for the Resettlement of Returning Residents, said: “Some of those people learned their craft in the UK but some are not guilty of any wrongdoing. It’s a disgrace that we’re taking these young people without there being any discussion of what we’ll do about the problem.”
More than 50 foreign-national offenders who were being held in detention centres in the UK had reportedly been due to arrive on the flight. But many had their deportation cancelled after their lawyers took action.
A breakdown of crimes committed by the offenders said one had been convicted of murder and four of various sexual offences including rape. Fourteen had been convicted of drugs offences, six had been convicted of violent crimes including grievous bodily harm and battery, and three of firearms and weapon offences. One conviction was for dangerous driving.
This was the first flight from the UK since the Windrush scandal, but deportation flights from other countries are a continuing issue in Jamaica.
“There’s a flight that comes here every last Thursday of month from the US,” said Oswald Dawkins, who runs the National Organisation of Deported Migrants. “It’s our job to provide redocumentation, custom information. Those from the US have to turn in their passports, so we help with that. We also do follow-up services, we see how they’re doing.”
They are known locally as “deportees”, but that term is being replaced officially with “involuntary returning migrants”. There are a number of homeless shelters in the city that work with deportees, taking people from a month to up to a year until they get themselves on their feet.
After the deportees’ documents were checked on the plane, they were taken in a police convoy to be processed at Harman Barracks, a colonial-era base used by the Jamaica Constabulary Force.
Outside the barracks, a man called Lamar was waiting for his brother to be released. He said the press in Jamaica had been unfair. “They treat everybody just like criminals, just the same. But not everybody is a criminal. Sometimes people get mixed up in little different things, but that doesn’t make you bad.”
Outside, another “British” – as those who have been abroad to the UK are known – was not waiting for anybody in particular, but thought he would probably know someone who was on the flight. “I was a police officer here for 19 years,” he said. “I got a chance to go to Britain and all my family are still there.”
He said he had become involved in drug dealing in Britain before being caught – shortly after getting the paperwork that would have allowed him to stay legally in the UK. He explained that he had overstayed on his visa and that selling drugs had been the best option.
“It’s hard for some people when they get here, but I had links,” he said, boasting that he lived in an uptown neighbourhood in Kingston and was continuing in the drug trade.
Most of the men leaving Harman Barracks attempted to hide their identities, covering their faces with T-shirts and hats, but one seemed genuinely happy to be back, greeting friends and going to a nearby bar.
“I’ve had a drink. It’s great to be here despite them kidnapping us out of England wrongfully,” the man, who did not want to give his name, said.
“I feel glad to be here because it’s 19 years I’ve not been back in Jamaica. I feel so good, the only thing I miss is my kids – they’re in England – and my wife and certain lifestyle, but Jamaica Bless.”