Walthamstow resident and Stansted 15 protester Melanie Strickland on why she’ll keep fighting to help vulnerable deportees
I was convicted of an absurd terror-related charge this week, on International Human Rights Day. The Stansted 15 – as we are known – have been tried for “endangering safety at airports” following our peaceful action against a deportation plane set to fly to Ghana and Nigeria in March 2017.
This charge, and the way the prosecution made its case throughout, has been political and vindictive. We were subjected to a ten-week trial at what must have been vast public expense.
I am proud of what we did and what the groups involved – End Deportations, Plane Stupid, and Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – have achieved. We helped to expose a massive government scandal.
We now know that the government has been deporting people en masse on a routine basis – many of these people had claims that had not been heard properly. In doing so, the Home Office has shown contempt for rule of law and due process.
Eleven of the 60 people scheduled to be on the plane we stopped remain in the country today. These people include trafficking survivors and people who have claimed asylum. At least one person has already secured leave to remain.
If I was put in a situation of extreme danger by my own government, as people on the plane we stopped were, I would want someone to intervene on my behalf. In March 2017 I was responding to a plea from someone I knew would be on the plane, whose story was posted on Detained Voices when they got the ticket for the deportation plane. They said: “I came to England for protection, I seek asylum here. I believe the UK could help me… Nobody hears our cry. We are crying. Please, we need to be rescued. Please can anybody helps us?”
From volunteering at Walthamstow Migrant Support Centre, I know about the misery experienced by people subject to immigration control. I found this person’s story compelling and totally credible.
The Home Office routinely breaks the law in refusing people’s claims without good reason, and in deporting them. They haven’t confirmed if the 49 people subsequently deported from our flight were of the Windrush generation, and they haven’t contacted those affected to tell them about the newly-established Windrush Taskforce.
If the government can totally disregard the law and get away with it, then none of us are safe – all our rights are under threat. The hostile environment is hostile to all of us. While these charter planes carrying deportees are still flying, we will keep up the campaign to end this brutal practice. It is now my mission to hold the government to account for its dark deeds.
I think about the people on the plane every day. Their words give me courage: “When something is wrong people have to stand up. The problem is with the Home Office. No-one checks on them, they have absolute power over peoples lives. They do whatever they want. People must stand up against injustice. We are very proud of the protesters. They did the right thing.”