Legal bids mean UK deportation flight to Zimbabwe takes off just one-third full
Multiple challenges, as well as Covid self-isolation, result in only 14 of people being on board, it is believed
It is the first mass deportation flight to Zimbabwe for many years and marks the start of a planned ‘summer season’ of charter flight deportations to countries including Vietnam and Jamaica that the Home Office is planning in the coming weeks.
The flight was due to deport about 50 people but only 14 are believed to have been on board when it took off from Stansted. It presented the Home Office with a series of problems, with dozens of escorts self-isolating until later this week due to being exposed to colleagues with Covid. Home Office officials confirmed on Tuesday evening that there is an outbreak of Covid at Brook House near Gatwick. Some of the Zimbabweans at that detention centre due to be deported could not be removed due to the outbreak.
There were also multiple legal challenges due to concerns about the safety of returnees in Zimbabwe, a country with a poor human rights record. Some of those earmarked for return have spent decades in the UK, have families here and were politically active against the Mugabe regime.
The Home Office says that many had committed serious crimes but some interviewed by the Guardian had committed less serious offences such as driving offences or working with false documents.
Seventy five parliamentarians signed a letter drafted by the all party parliamentary group on Zimbabwe, raising concerns about what they say is a deteriorating political and human rights situation in the country.
In a letter to the home secretary they wrote: “The Zimbabwe government is systematically oppressing its political opponents, denying freedom of speech and committing gross human rights violations.”
Hours before the flight was due to take off two detainees due to board it threw themselves from a second floor landing at Colnbrook immigration removal centre on to netting below. They are believed to have been unharmed and were not removed.