Protests force new deportation black-out system

As far as I know, it's the first time the Home Office has come out and admitted it. It's been confirmed the protests planned against Isabella Acevedo's deportation last Thursday led to its cancellation.

Unusually, the Home Office admitted Acevedo, the former cleaner of Home Office minister Mark Harper, was not put on the flight because of "potential disruption by third parties". There had been a protest at Harper's flat the night before and one was planned at Heathrow on the night of the flight. That's the 'third party' disruption they're talking about.

Praise be to third parties, to the third parties who give up their time and money, who travel to bleak and remote locations, with precious little media coverage or public sympathy, and campaign for the decent and humane treatment of the vulnerable. They are the best of us and this morning they are entitled a trace of self-congratulation.

We often see these last minute changes to deportations in controversial cases but could never be sure why – was it the airlines responding to pressure on social media, or mere administrative coincidence? Well it appears that at least some of the time it's because protests were planned.

The Home Office is now exploring a solution: a deportation window. Acevedo has been given a two-week period in which it will happen. This is very new but becoming more common. In Acevedo's case it is between 23:59 BST tomorrow and the same time on August 15th. This way no-one knows when the deportation will take place and protests are harder to plan.

One legal requirement stands in their way: detainees must be given a 48 hour notice of deportation, 24 hours of which must be a working day. They must also be given details of the flight.

That suggests the protests will still be possible to organise, albeit at the last minute. After all, if the protestors were the sort who minded a struggle, they'd have selected a campaign with at least a modicum of public sympathy.

But there's an extra element, which the Home Office is likely to deploy. Before the deportation takes place guards transfer the person to a short-term holding centre near the airport. When that happens the deportee can't keep their phone. If they are very lucky, they might be able to call their lawyer from the bus, but that is at the discretion of the guards and is consequently very rare. Once they're in the holding centre, there's no way to contact them or for them to tell supporters what is happening. It’s the ultimate black-bag-over-the-head treatment. They make them disappear.

I've no evidence to substantiate this, but given the reasons behind the cancellation of the flight last Thursday it seems likely this short-term holding period will last the duration of the 48-hour window. That way the Home Office can fulfil its legal obligations while still keeping the deportee completely cut off.

There is precious little reason to feel upbeat about this situation. But it is a sign, even in a limited way, that the protest movement against Britain's detention and deportation programme is affecting the system.

The brutality of British deportation is a response to all the pressure coming from the anti-immigrant, anti-asylum right. Now we know the pressure is being felt from the opposite direction as well. For now, the response is to go further underground. But that might not always be the case.

Small blessings, to be sure. But something's better than nothing.