Filling Up Seats: Charter Flights and the UK’s Unlawful Deportation Tactics

by Lotte Lewis Smith

8 March 2017

ukhomeoffice, Flickr

One man has been deported into destitution in Nigeria without receiving an answer to his asylum claim, and was given only one day to challenge his removal.

Tunde Olamide* was a passenger on the so-called Operation Majestic mass deportation charter flight to Nigeria and Ghana that left on 31 January, removing up to 50 people to Nigeria and 20 to Ghana.

Speaking from a homeless shelter in Lagos, Tunde said that when he went to ‘report’ at his local Home Office branch – a weekly or monthly requirement for people seeking asylum – on 26 January, he was detained and held at Manchester airport for two nights.

Tunde reports that he never received a decision on his asylum claim, and was still receiving his allocated asylum support – £36 weekly and government-contracted housing – when he was detained.

Oyekunle, another detainee set to be removed on the same charter flight to Nigeria had similarly never received a decision on his asylum claim, but managed to get off the flight with the help of a barrister.

Tunde explained, “In 2005, around Christmas, my family were killed by Boko Haram. Our church in Kaduna state was burnt down, with the congregation. They disliked that my father had converted from Islam to Christianity and built a church in the area. I was lucky to be at university campus when it happened.”

Amnesty International reports that, due to insurgencies by the militant Islamist group – a violent product of British colonial rule in west Africa – over 2 million people have been internally displaced in northern Nigeria alone, whilst approximately 170,000 people have fled to neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

No chance.

After two nights at Manchester airport, Tunde was taken to Harmondsworth detention centre at around 11pm. The next day – Sunday, when solicitors and support groups were unreachable – he was given a ticket for the charter flight, scheduled to leave two days later.

According to Home Office policy, when deportations take place via a charter flight, detainees must be informed at least five working days before the flight is scheduled to depart. Rakesh Singh from The Public Law Project said, “Even if a person has a very strong case against removal and they have applied for a judicial review of their case, if they are on a charter flight then usually the removal will go ahead unless and until the person also obtains an injunction from a judge ordering the Home Office to stop the removal. That is why in charter flight cases the Home Office accepts that a person must usually be given a minimum of five working days’ notice of removal because more time is needed for the person to stop their removal.”

 With only one day between being issued a ticket and the scheduled flight, Tunde had little chance to pursue any legal avenues open to stopping his removal. He said, “I managed to lodge a judicial review, but they did not allow me to receive the confirmation. I was locked up, not allowed to go out.”

People are commonly removed from the UK before they have the chance to pursue legal representation or challenges. The Home Office states that, “Because of the complexities, practicalities and costs involved in arranging charter flights it is essential that these removals are not disrupted or delayed by large numbers of last minute claims for permission to seek judicial review.”

Tunde’s experiences raise questions of collective expulsion, as the Home Office unlawfully targets people of specific nationalities, in order to fill up seats on the charter flight, regardless of the different stages they are at in their individual case, or the lawfulness of their removal.

The Nigerian High Commission are paid £70 per person deported by the UK government. One report by the European Migration Network notes the unrigorous nature of Nigeria’s process for identifying Nigerian nationals, which has also been documented by The Unity Centre, a no borders collective based in Scotland.

“They chained me to take me to the flight”.

Charter flights have an ongoing history of the use of restraints, guards, and rough handling, shielded away from the eyes of independent witnesses. Tunde said, “They chained me to take me to the flight. They tied belts on my body. There were 2 people to hold me and drag me inside the plane. I could not breathe very well, I am still feeling the pain now. I explained my situation to them but they didn’t want to hear it. They said they were just doing their job.”

Coordinator at Right to Remain, Lisa Matthews, said, “If the government believes that charter flight removals/deportations are a legitimate policy, why do the flights leave in the dead-of-night, from undisclosed airports?”

During the flight, one Tascor ‘escort’ engaged in conversation with Tunde, asking ‘Have you ever been in prison? Have you ever committed a crime in this country?’ I answered no, I haven’t. He replied, ‘Why are you being detained? Why do they want to deport you?’ I said, I don’t know why.”

Splitting families.

Francis* was deported to Nigeria via the same charter flight. He has a wife and two children in the UK, and said, “My wife has been turned into a single parent. What will my children do without a father? The Home Office says I can Skype my children but how can that compare to being able to tuck them in at night and take them to school?”

In a 2015 inspection of a charter flight to Nigeria and Ghana, it was stated that the British High Commission ensured all detainees had somewhere to stay and enough money to travel to their “home area”. Tunde says he was given £5 by immigration officials, which was to be used to contact his friends and family in Nigeria, all of which fled his “home area”, or he no longer has contact with after 10 years away.

Mark from the Nigeria Deportation Support Group added, “The UK removes people to a country where they are faced with financial difficulties, are traumatised due to prolonged detention and deportation, they have no job, accommodation or the resources to pursue an appeal or build a life all over again.”

The Home Office refuses to comment on individual cases, stating, “Those with no right to be in the UK should return home. We expect people to leave the country voluntarily but, where they do not, Immigration Enforcement will seek to enforce their departure.”


You can contribute to Tunde’s crowdfunder to help pay for his legal fees. Anyone able to offer pro bono legal representation, please get in touch at [email protected]

 *Names have been changed to protect the individuals’ identities.

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