Morning Star: The “inhumane” treatment of detainees in the hours leading up to the cancelled Rwanda flight was described as “torture” by lawyers and campaigners today.
Asylum-seekers who had been due to be deported to the east African country on Tuesday night were put in restraints, handcuffed and dragged onto the plane before it was ultimately grounded.
Campaigners who were on the phone to detainees in those desperate hours told the Morning Star that while the asylum-seekers have been spared deportation for now, the trauma of that night will stay with them for the “rest of their lives.”
Security began taking the detainees from their cells at Colnbrook and Brook House detention centres from around 12.30pm on Tuesday, even while their legal cases were ongoing.
They were then transported to Boscombe Down – a military aircraft testing site – in Amesbury in separate vans, each accompanied by three guards.
International Federation of Iraqi Refugees secretary Dashty Jamal said one asylum-seeker spoke to him from inside the plane.
“I believe he was assaulted because we recorded a voice recording over the phone – he was crying and shouting and you can hear him being beaten,” he said.
“He’s not a criminal, he’s a human being.”
One asylum-seeker from Iraq told Sky News that he was “hit, kicked and pushed” by security officers, working for Home Office contractor Mitie.
Another, who was driven to the airport but not put on the plane, was forced to wait for hours on the tarmac after being granted an injunction at 6pm by the courts to halt his removal.
Immigration lawyer Jacqui McKenzie told the Star that her client was held on the coach for three hours as the Home Office tried to appeal, before eventually cancelling his removal directions at 9pm.
“Those three hours were torture for a man doctors in the immigration detention centre say has signs of being a victim of torture,” she said.
Iranian human rights lawyer Shadi Sadr, who spoke to two of the men, described their treatment as “inhumane.”
“One of them, under enormous pressure and stress, passed out in the airport and so they put him in a wheelchair and took him up to the stairs of the aircraft,” she told the Star.
“Two officers actually lifted him into the plane.”
The men were eventually driven back to Brook House around midnight – two hours after the flight was grounded following a last-minute intervention from the European Court of Human Rights.
Ms Sadr, who co-founded the Justice for Iran group, said the ordeal only adds to their existing trauma, stressing that the events of that night must shine a light on the wider “ill treatment” of detainees by the British authorities.
“What we saw – what they did to the refugees on their way from the detention centre to the aircraft, I think was a critical case of ill treatment – if not torture,” she said.
“The next battle should not only be about the rights of refugees but also about the rights of detainees in a bigger context.”
Movement for Justice campaigner Karen Doyle said the ordeal was “deeply traumatising” for the men.
“People live with it for the rest of their lives – it’s not something you can move past or forget,” she said.
Zita Holbourne, a leading campaigner against deportations, told the Star she had documented “many” cases of detainees being dragged onto flights despite winning cases against their removal the previous day, only to be taken off “at the last second.”
“This is not the first time we have seen torment and torture added to the already horrific trauma and distress of being deported,” she said.
“Having spoken to many people previously who have been removed from flights after boarding only to spend 10 to 12 hours waiting around, chained in inhumane conditions, with no food, water, toilet or telephone to update loved ones …
“I [know] how distressing it is and the longer-term post trauma they experience.
“These are human beings but they and their families are being treated as less than human with no care or concern for their welfare and human rights.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Our staff and escorting providers are rigorously trained to ensure the safety of returnees throughout the removal process, including on the appropriate use of force and restraint.”
Mitie said in a statement it was confident its employees had acted “professionally” and “restraint is only used as a last resort,” including the prevention of injury or self-harm.