Ethan Shone 18th December 2018
Activists are engaging in a National Day of Action today, to show solidarity with the Stansted 15 and protest against their conviction and the government’s hostile environment policies. The day of action has been planned to coincide with International Migrants Day on 18 December.
The National Day of Action was called by Unis Resist Border Controls, and End Deportations, with a long list of regional migrant-rights, anti-racist and labour rights groups participating around the country.
Demonstrations have been organised in more than 18 cities across the UK, from London to Glasgow, and thousands are expected to attend. This action follows a spontaneous demonstration held outside the Home Office following the verdict on the Stansted 15 case, announced last week, which saw more than 1,000 people turn up. It follows on too from an open letter from a number of public figures to the government, calling for the activists to be spared jail time. Among the 300 signatories were shadow home secretary Dianne Abbott; shadow attorney general Shami Chakrabarti; Oscar-winning actor Emma Thompson; and poet, author and musician, Akala, among others.
The Stansted 15 are activists and members of campaign group End Deportations, who stopped a chartered mass-deportation flight from taking off in March of last year, after they cut through a fence and secured themselves around the Boeing 767 to prevent it taking off. Activists say they took action to prevent further human rights abuse against those at risk of being deported.
Some of those due to be deported have since been identified as victims of trafficking, and 11 of those who were due to be deported on that flight have, as a result of the protest, been able to continue their appeals and remain in the UK. One woman wrote a blog just before her scheduled deportation, in which she explained that she had fled Nigeria due to her sexuality, and that upon her return she would likely be killed by her ex-husband from an arranged marriage. One man, who was due to deported that night and has since been granted the right to remain, was, as a result of the protest, able to rejoin his wife and witness the birth of their child, which he would have missed had the charter deportation gone ahead.
Following a nine-week trial at Colchester Crown court, a jury found all 15 defendants guilty of intentional disruption of services and endangerment at an aerodrome under the 1990 Aviation and Maritime Security Act, which carries a maximum life sentence. Sentencing is scheduled for February 2019, though an appeal has been launched to see the conviction overturned.
The activists were originally charged by police with aggravated trespass, the typical charge for this kind of activity which carries a maximum three-month prison sentence and has been levelled against defendants in very similar cases in recent years, including protests at London’s City and Heathrow airports. But for reasons which are unclear, Attorney General Jeremy Wright gave special permission for the Stansted 15 to be charged under the much harsher Aviation and Maritime Security Act. The Aviation and Maritime Act was introduced explicitly to deal with acts of terrorism at airports, following the Lockerbie bombings, and its use in this instance — against non-violent protesters — has been widely criticised as an assault on the right to protest.
We wanted to use our collective voices to give solidarity to the Stansted 15, whose brave actions highlight both the embedded racism of UK’s immigration laws and the absurdities of anti-terror laws that are being used to thwart our ability to protest
Activists are hopeful that the media attention garnered by this specific case will raise awareness around the use of charter flight deportations generally, which costs taxpayers a huge amount each year and typically sees private security staff involved verbally and physically assault the migrants on board, and the wider set of policies enacted by the Conservative government which aim to create a hostile environment for migrants.
Sanaz Raji, a member of Unis Resist Border Controls (URBC), said: “We wanted to take International Migrants Day to highlight the violence of this country’s immigration policy, which includes the use of secret deportation flights, indefinite detention, the hostile environment policy turning everyday people into border guards, and the many migrant deaths inside this country’s 10 detention centres. As a precarious migrant, I am impacted by these dangerous policies.
“Along with URBC, groups taking part in the National Day of Action wanted to use our collective voices to give solidarity to the Stansted 15, whose brave actions highlight both the embedded racism of UK’s immigration laws and the absurdities of anti-terror laws that are being used to thwart our ability to protest.”
Demonstrations will be held in Aberystwyth, Belfast, Birmingham, Brighton, Bristol, Colchester, Derry, Glasgow, Lancaster, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield. Further details can be found on Unis Resist Border Controls‘ or End Deportations‘ Facebook pages.
A petition has been set up by the mother of one of the activists charged, calling on the government to end the hostile environment, stop charter deportations and for the Stansted 15’s convictions to be overturned. At time of writing it had received over 50,000 signatures.
Main Image: Unis Against Border Controls
Ethan Shone 18th December 2018