Photographer witnessed and prevented deportation

May 27, 2004

Written by Harmit Athwal

Concerns are being raised by UK NGOs about the possible use of excessive force during deportations. A witness to an attempted deportation describes the humiliation and distress she saw.

On, 29 April 2004, just two days before ten new states, including Lithuania, joined the EU, British photographer, Jess Hurd, on her way to Lithuania to cover the celebrations, witnessed the attempted deportation of three Lithuanian women and three children on flight TE453 from Gatwick to Vilnius.

Jess Hurd told IRR News that on boarding the flight immigration officials announced that three women and three children were being deported and that they were ‘very loud’ but would soon ‘calm down’. This was not the case. Jess heard screaming from the back of the plane and felt compelled to investigate what was happening. She saw the women and children were ‘visibly upset’ and that one of the women ‘appeared to be writhing in pain’. ‘It was too distressing not to intervene,’ she said, because the immigration officers were in her opinion using ‘excessive force’.

What Jess found:

‘On the right hand side was a young girl aged about 12 or 14 years, seated and flanked by two security officers. As far as I could see, the officers were all men apart from one female immigration officer. The official on the girl’s right appeared to have his hand on her neck. I am not sure if she was handcuffed at that point, though the woman behind her definitely was. The girl had tears streaming down her face and was obviously in a lot of distress. On the row behind her was an older woman, probably in her mid-30s, she was also flanked by two security people. She had handcuffs on and was wearing only her underwear – bra and pants. On the left side, at the back row, there was another woman flanked by two security people, but I could not see her so clearly. In front of her, were three children (about 10-years-old and under), looking very scared and shaken. The youngest looked about 6-years-old.’

When Jess asked one of the immigration officers what was going on, she was told it was not her concern. But Jess voiced her concerns about the treatment of the women and pointed out that one of the ‘women’ being deported appeared to be no older than 12-or 14-years-old and that she appeared to be restrained around the neck. At this point, Jess also witnessed one of the (at least) six immigration officers ‘twisting the arm of the woman’ seated behind.

Jess, asserted that she would not sit down until something was done about the women and children. An immigration officer told Jess ‘some people want you removed’. When Jess indicated that she was not prepared to travel on the flight while the women were in such distress, the immigration officer agreed to remove the women from the flight. ‘The whole flight had to see the women being dragged back through the plane, one with only her bra and pants on. She was hunched over trying to preserve her modesty while she walked down the plane. She was still in handcuffs and being pulled from the front and pushed from behind,’ Jess said.

Related links

Commission for Racial Equality

Committee to Defend Asylum Seekers

National Assembly Against Racism

Runnymede Trust

Statewatch

The 1990 trust

If you wish to contact Jess Hurd please email the IRR: info@irr.org.uk and we will pass on any messages.

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

Comments

June 7, 2004
Brian:

Jess is either badly mistaken or she is making this story up. Usually people who are being removed from the UK are escorted onto a plane and their documents are left with the pilot. They travel alone and are not restrained in any way. However, in a tiny minority of cases some people are so violent and disruptive that, for the safety of other passengers, they are restrained and escorted during the flight. This is never done by immigration officers but by highly-trained specialists who are experts in dealing with deportations and extraditions involving disruptive individuals. These people are accustomed to working in the most difficult of circumstances and to suggest that a removal would be abandoned simply because another passenger complained is, quite frankly, ludicrous.

July 3, 2004
Paul:

I don’t believe this story. Where are the photographs which any savvy photo-journalist would have taken?

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