Solidarity with the #Stansted15
More than 1,500 people were deported from the UK last year. Many would have been going about their daily business, or even sleeping soundly in their beds, when suddenly they either found themselves handcuffed and transported across the country to be temporarily held in a detention centre, or taken directly to their chartered flight in the middle of the night.
No legal representation, no witnesses, and no access to their family or loved ones to - at the very least - say goodbye.
This dehumanising practice by the Home Office has been going on every few months for the past 16 years, usually to global south destinations including Pakistan, Nigeria, Ghana and Jamaica.
While the precise time and locations of the chartered flights are rarely known, this time last year, 15 activists managed to stop a flight filled with migrants from departing to Nigeria and Ghana. The collective, who chained themselves onto the wing of the aircraft, included campaigners from End Deportations, Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants (LGSMigrants) and Plane Stupid.
Their direct action lasted for 10 hours, and led to both the cancellation of the flight itself as well as a disturbance to the entire airport that night. They were subsequently arrested by the police for aggravated trespass.
Later on, some of the those who were on the plane were able to successfully appeal their deportation status. Indeed, the system depends so much on rapid action and the total shock and disorganisation that this brings to people's lives that even a little bit more time can mean the difference between staying or deportation - often to dangerous, violent, and insecure situations.
One year on, the #Stansted15, as they are now known, are not only facing possible jail time but they are also being taken to court on terror-related charges under the Aviation and Maritime Security Act. The maximum sentence under these charges would be life imprisonment.
Speaking to the Institute of Race Relations, the spokesperson for End Deportations, Luke de Noronha, explained that the heavier charges were an indication that "the CPS seem to be trying to make an example of these activists".
"We'll have to see what happens, but this reliance on discourse and law surrounding 'terrorism' reminds us how plastic, capacious and useful the notion of 'terrorism' can be for the state."
Given that this is said to be the first successful interruption of a charter flight of this nature, it is unsurprising to hear that the state would use this as an example to anyone wishing to take part in future activism. Not to mention, it has shed further light on the lengths to which the state is prepared to go to protect the continued inhumane treatment of migrants at the hands of the Home Office.
They would rather the countless individuals that they herd into chartered planes like cattle go unnoticed in the middle of the night and that no one hears of the aftermath.
On this flight alone, detainees included a lesbian woman from Nigeria, whose ex-husband warned that he would be awaiting her arrival at the airport so that he could kill her:
"My friend called from Nigeria, she is looking after my four children in Nigeria. My ex-husband called her, he is trying to take my children away from her. She has been forced to leave their home with my children. My ex-husband said he knows I am being deported next week. He is waiting for me. He is planning to kill me."
Another has been living in the UK for nearly 18 years with his wife and children:
"What do the they expect me to do? They are trying to deport me when I don't have one penny in my pocket. How can I leave my wife in this country? How can I leave my brother and his children in this country? My family and my life is here in the UK. If they take me back to Ghana I will kill myself."
Noronha explained that a number of people on the flight were able to use the delay to legally oppose their attempted deportation and won. Furthermore, protests that have taken place across the country in solidarity with refugees, the hundreds demonstrating outside Yarl's Wood detention Centre against the horrendous treatment of migrants there, and the hunger strike undertaken by the women detained in Yarl's Wood themselves, such actions have empowered groups around the world.
To stay updated with the trial and receive updates for solidarity action visit the website: End Deportations
The Stansted 15 have shown that a disruption of this scale is both possible, and effective.
The danger for these kind of actions spreading, as the state sees it, is therefore real and the disproportionate response to the action has to be understood in this light. This is not so much about the 15 activists themselves but about the precedent it sets for any future actions of this kind and the fear it will impose on communities, anti-deportation groups, and activists across the UK.
It is also important to note how the anti-terror laws applied in such a heavy-handed way against Muslim communities since 9/11 are increasingly being used to curb civil rights more broadly. As many anti-Prevent and other civil rights campaigners have warned, we are seeing an increasing use of terrorism-related legislation to target anti-fracking activists, Palestine campaigners, and now anti-deportation groups.
This is always the role of racist legislations: using racialised communities as the thin edge of the wedge in order to normalise the curtailing of civil liberties, before expanding its application across society. This is not only a fight against racist migration policy but also one against the steady roll-back of political and civil rights in the context of the war on terror.
The 15 now await their fates. With the trial underway at Chelmsford Crown Court, our solidarity is desperately needed. As the government attempts to facilitate this modern-day kidnapping of migrants with no accountability, and tries to reprimand those resisting, we must highlight the case and ensure that the state is forced to learn a lesson.
We must amplify and support the actions of all those fighting xenophobic policies and support them when they are targeted by draconian government repression.
In the words of one of the protesters, Emma Hughes: "This is just the beginning - we'll keep fighting until the government agrees to stop charter flights and mass deportations once and for all."
There have been dozens attending the rallies outside the court, but this is likely to continue beyond a few days, and mounting public pressure in the long-term is necessary. No human should be illegal, the colour of your passport - or even lack of one - should never define your right to live free from oppression and abuse.
Malia Bouattia is an activist, a former president of the National Union of Students, and co-founder of the Students not Suspects/Educators not Informants Network.
Follow her on Twitter: @MaliaBouattia
Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.