Watching a Repat Flight

How the Home Office deports thousands of migrants without you noticing.


  1. In late July, we received word that two Home Office charter flights were set to deport hundreds of men to West Africa, on the evening of the 28th. One was scheduled to leave from Stansted Airport, so we went to have a look.
  2. The people being deported are people who, for various reasons, have been denied the right to stay in the UK. They could be asylum seekers whose claims have been refused, people who were living and working in Britain without the correct documentation, or people with overseas citizenship who committed criminal offences and were being deported at the end of their sentence. The Home Office has run over 800 such flights since 2001.
  3. The charter flights, which are an alternative to placing deportees on commercial flights alongside other passengers, round up large groups of people from the same region and make several stops.
  4. It's difficult to know who exactly is on the flights, but some will have been living in the UK since childhood. Others might never have set foot in the country to which they are being deported.
  5. Women are deported, too.
  6. It's also difficult to know if the deportees have been given due legal process. A key element of the government's immigration detention system was recently found by the High Court to be so "structurally unfair" as to be unlawful.
  7. At Stansted, the charter flights depart from the private jet centre - well away from the public airport terminals.
  8. For the private companies that facilitate such flights, deportation is part of their business. If you've ever taken a package holiday, you might even have sat on the plane that was being used this evening. Coaches bring the deportees to the airport, where they are transferred on to the waiting plane.
  9. The deportees were escorted by guards employed by a private security company that is contracted by the Home Office to handle deportations.
  10. The previous security provider, G4S, lost the deportations contract in 2010, after an Angolan man was killed while being restrained by guards on board a plane. An inquest found a culture of "pervasive racism" among company employees.
  11. Watching the flight with me was James Bridle, whose artwork "Seamless Transitions" explores Britain's hidden spaces of immigration detention and deportation.
  12. As we watched, through a fence in the airport car park, flight preparations continued.
  13. We were in an area where plane spotters are normally allowed to stand and take photos, but after a few hours our presence became unwelcome.