Five campaigners blocked the road outside Colnbrook and Harmondsworth immigration prisons with ‘lock-on’ devices and a tripod shortly after 11am.
They are joined by many more supporters, including members of the Tamil community.
In solidarity with today’s D-15 day of direct action, the campaigners are trying to physically block the forced movement of as many as 75 Tamil refugees from Harmondsworth immigration prison to a Sri Lanka-bound removal flight.
Eyewitnesses say that the blockade forced a bus with detainees to return inside the prison compound.
Activists say that the flight should not go ahead because the refugees could be tortured upon their return to Sri Lanka. The plane is scheduled to takeoff at 3.30pm.
Legal sources claim that despite foreign office assurances that the British Government would “investigate any credible and relevant allegations” of Sri Lankan authorities torturing returning refugees, one returnee, Rohan, was “beaten with burning irons” by the state CID shortly after arrival .
A barrister for one of the detainees set to be removed today claims that the UK Border Agency made the decision to deport the group based on old information. “It’s quite clear the decision to remove was made regardless of their own [country] bulletin,” said the silk.
“The Home Office’s new country report was released after this group received their removal directions from UKBA – it contradicts the old one on which the deportation decisions were made,” said one Tamil campaigner.
Activists are angry that removals have resumed despite evidence of systemic torture in the country . They claim that ‘cozy’ relations between British lobby groups, the Conservative-led Government and the Sri Lankan regime have made a mockery of the removal process.
Tamil activists allege that former defence secretary Liam Fox’s head of private office Mike Threadgold met Sri Lankan officials to discuss possible PR problems in resuming deportation flights from the UK to Sri Lanka .
Threadgold allegedly met foreign minister Rohitha Bogollagma and opposition MP Wijedasa Rajapaksa during the week of June 6, 2011 in Colombo’s Hilton hotel to discuss the possible bad press from the resumption of flights. Flights resumed on June 17, 2011.
Public relations firm Bell Pottinger has been in the spotlight over claims made by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in The Independent that it helped the Sri Lankan government to improve its reputation with an aggressive media campaign .
Many of the refugees fighting to stay in the UK were displaced by fighting in the 25-year civil war which pitted ethnic Tamil rebels against primarily ethnic Sinhalese government forces. Estimates suggest as many as 100,000 people were killed during the conflict .
Pressure is also mounting on Thomson Holidays owner TUI AG as customers protest the firm’s decision to lease an aircraft to the UKBA for the removal. TUI subsidiary ArkeFky which will operate the flight could not be reached for comment.
When we first arrived we could see that the coaches were loaded and about to leave. People inside were waving at us as the coach retreated back into the compound.
The blockade held strong for around four hours, with around 25 people participated in all.
A second blockade was made on a normally disused back gate but - it's still unclear as to how - the police arrested 5 of those involved in that one, for apparently unrelated offences and obstruction of the highway.
There was much contact from people inside, who were buoyed by the action and happy for the support.
However, after the blockade at the back was broken, two coaches left through the rear with around 30 people on each. The application for an injunction was also lost today and we are awaiting confirmation that the flight went ahead :(
No Borders! No Nations!
(BTW, with Riseup down we had some media problems and were not able to send the original press release. The point above about making a mockery of the removal process is in no way meant to suggest that deportation is ever legitimate...)