The Home Office, mired in racism claims, now plans another mass deportation of black people

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Demonstrators protest against the ‘hostile environment’ in 2018 outside the Home Office in Westminster, London. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA

The department broke equality laws and is banishing 50 people to Jamaica next week. These flights must be stopped

Take a moment to think of the Home Office. It’s a troubled place. The home secretary, Priti Patel, has been labelled a bully – and the evidence suggests breached the ministerial code, according to the man who investigated her. The department itself has been found to have violated equalities laws by disregarding the warnings about the impact of its hostile environment policy on black people. And the most senior black Home Office employee on the compensation scheme for the resulting Windrush scandal has resigned amid complaints of discrimination, it emerged last week.

“It’s not just racism,” said Alexandra Ankrah, a former barrister who worked as head of policy on the scheme. Although that strikes me as a fairly fatal error all on its own, for a programme specifically designed to compensate victims of racism. The scheme was so lacking in compassion for victims, Ankrah said, that those relying on it, many of them sick and elderly, were being “retraumatised” by it

The inquiry into the hostile environment policy by the Equality and Human Rights Commission found the Home Office had “a lack of commitment” to equality. The policy led to many black British people who were entitled to live here having benefits removed, being denied healthcare, and in some cases being deported. Warnings of its impact were “repeatedly ignored, dismissed, or their severity disregarded”.

Yet despite the bullying, racism and illegality, Home Office officials have decided to organise a mass deportation of black people – just before Christmas, and in the middle of a global pandemic. The government has confirmed its intention to deport around 50 people, many of whom have been in the UK since childhood, to Jamaica next Wednesday. Under current laws, any foreign nationals who have been convicted of an offence and sentenced to 12 months or more are given “deportation orders”. For those who have lived most of their lives here, and have served a 12-month sentence just like anyone else, the banishment is in effect an additional life sentence.

And the deportation system makes mistakes: lots of them. A flight that was due to have deported 50 people to Jamaica in February this year was disrupted at the 11th hour when four were recognised as potential victims of trafficking. Another 29 were also allowed to stay after a last-minute challenge.

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