Japortation is the implementation of the UK Home Office’s 'hostile environment' directed at Jamaican nationals who have been identified as illegal immigrants. It involves holding them without warning in detention centres, flying them to Jamaica and delivering them to the custody of the Jamaican Defence Force pending contact with their wider families.
As a London-born and educated dual national of England and Jamaica, I migrated to live and teach in Westmoreland and raise my children with the option of two cultures. Less well-protected by friends and relatives are many who made the reverse journey to the UK as children or very young adults before Independence 20-30 years earlier. They travelled on British passports or other identification documents. Because life in England was lived on a circumspect path trodden between taxes and NIS payments and provision, costly flights, lengthy trips abroad may not have been within their sights. Hence a passport and a clear decision about citizenship was not a priority.
It is said that deporting a foreign national who has disregarded a local law is a widespread and justifiable practice. It is also mooted that some potential deportees have committed serious crimes. However, many have been deported after serving brief sentences for road traffic offences or after entanglement with youth crime many years before.
Personal experiences aside, other countries have rarely been in a closer symbiotic relationship than England and Jamaica, yet a visa requirement was imposed in January 2003. The Jamaican and UK governments provide for deportees and their care, but only a close ear to the ground and timely press investigations have enabled successful resistance on behalf of some targeted individuals.
Consequences affect both ends of the deportees’ enforced journey. The elderly are taken from caring relatives, established patterns of support and ongoing health care. In the lower age bracket are fathers and mothers of UK families who are in need of moral and financial support. Between these two extremes are people of many age groups whose roles of responsibility in the NHS, transport, caring professions and essential services are left unoccupied.
Concerned individuals do not know the deportees’ life stories in Jamaica or the knock-on effects of their journey. Whether receiving relatives are screened for capacity or willingness to take responsibility for a previously unknown or relatively unknown family member, we have no reliable feedback. Most have no means of covering costs or of meeting expectations of interdependence. Arriving in a strange environment, deportees will have to restructure their sense of self and repurpose their knowledge, skills and talents in order to maintain their mental health and participate meaningfully in the national economy. Strained relationships, complicated by ways of responding to conflict that may not be mutually acceptable, will be associated with fears about the type of behaviour that led to deportation. There will be repercussions in the local community. At worst, genuinely reprehensible behaviour and anti-social habits will impact on the security of the island and potentially add to the island’s crime rate.
In this situation, whilst governmental provision and safeguards are essential, there is a need for non-government organisations to unite and adapt. Immediately, travellers need counselling and support at both ends of their journeys to orient themselves to a changed social reality. Longer term, self-help programmes, promoted amongst Japortees and their families, will offer networking and shared business development. A proposed annual gathering in Jamaica for people who have been affected will require funding, so a charitable body with proper safeguards for fundraising is required.
A virtual event is planned by Greens of Colour on 11 February 2021 to discuss and agree the next steps. Comments and participation by interested stakeholders are invited.
Rosemary Palmer is the Caribbean International Officer for Greens of Colour