People from Caribbean countries such as Jamaica appear to be disproportionately targeted for deportation from the UK if they commit crimes, according to Home Office data obtained by the Guardian following a yearlong freedom of information battle.
One pressure group said the high percentage of Jamaican nationals deported was particularly glaring given their greater likelihood of having family ties in the UK, and warned that it could further erode the trust of people affected by the Windrush scandal.
Nationals from Ghana and Nigeria are also removed significantly more often than the overall average, the figures show. Another set of controversial Home Office chartered deportation flights to both countries are expected next month.
Campaigners also expressed alarm after the statistics showed particularly high levels of people deported to Albania and Vietnam, which have notable issues with human trafficking connected to organised crime.
Under the UK Borders Act 2007, foreign nationals who are jailed for a single offence for at least 12 months will normally be considered for deportation on their release, with exceptions under human rights rules – for example, having children in the UK, and for people who have been trafficked.
A comparison of Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and Home Office data between 2015 and 2020 showed that once people from European Economic Area countries were excluded, as they are not covered by the act, an average of 65% of overseas nationals jailed for at least 12 months were deported.
For Jamaican nationals, this proportion rose to 75%, however, despite the much greater likelihood of their having significant ties to the UK. For other former British colonies in the Caribbean, such as Trinidad and Tobago, and St Lucia, the rates were higher still.
The statistics also showed that 90% of Nigerian nationals were deported, and 76% of those from Ghana. For Albanians, the rate was 90%, and for Vietnamese nationals 84%.
Both sets of data were obtained under freedom of information laws. While the MoJ supplied the information within weeks, the Home Office refused, saying that to do so would be “likely to prejudice diplomatic relations between the UK and a foreign government”, and could hamper the operation of immigration controls.
The Guardian appealed to the Information Commissioner’s Office, which ruled against the Home Office, calling the department’s arguments “vague” and “generic”, and noting that no attempt had been made to substantiate them. “The commissioner will not accept at face value assertions made by a public authority that, in her view, require a proper and fuller explanation,” the ruling stated.
Bishop Desmond Jaddoo, chair of the Windrush National Organisation, said he was dispirited but not surprised by the statistics. “This bears out what we’ve been saying for a very long time – that particularly Jamaicans have disproportionately fallen foul of immigration regulations,” he said.
“I believe the British government are disregarding family lives. I understand people have committed crimes, but they are being punished twice – they have served their time in prison, many have gone back to their families and children, some have spent years out of prison, and then they’re deported.”
Jaddoo said the disproportionality risked further alienating people from Windrush communities: “We’re talking here about trust and confidence, about people being able to come forward. People are still worried.”
Bella Sankey, the director of Detention Action, which campaigns over deportation flights, said: “The Home Office claims its deportation system is not discriminatory, but these statistics reveal the truth. As we’ve long suspected, black-majority, former British colonies like Nigeria, Ghana and Jamaica are targeted, along with countries where trafficking is prevalent, like Albania and Vietnam.
“How are these decisions made? Are these the easy targets for a department that cares little for black lives and trafficking survivors?”
Deportations, particularly to Jamaica, have become an increasingly contentious issue in recent months. Some of those removed have lived in the UK since they were children. Under a deal agreed late last year between the UK and Jamaica, the Home Office will no longer remove Jamaican nationals who first moved to the UK before the age of 12.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The public rightly expects us to remove those who have no right to be in the UK, including dangerous foreign criminals. These figures show the ongoing work to remove those who have received at least a 12-month sentence in the UK for committing crimes such as sexual offences, drug dealing and arson.
“We regularly operate charter flights, but also use other available routes such as regularly scheduled flights to remove criminals from the UK – we do not target specific countries. Returns, including deportations as well as voluntary departures, to Jamaica constituted less than 1% of all returns between January 2015 and March 2020.”