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On Qatar Airways Flight QR76

More on Jackie Nanyonjo and what was done to her.

Jackie was a fighter for herself and for others: a lesbian who escaped from anti-gay persecution and a brutal forced marriage, and a member of the Movement for Justice. In Britain she had been able for the first time to live and love openly as a lesbian; she was much-loved by a wide circle of friends who kept in touch with her after she was deported and who miss her deeply.

I suppose I should say trigger warning at this point. What happened to her is not comfortable reading.

With all the limited avenues of Britain’s racist immigration laws closed to her and facing deportation to a country where it is a crime to be gay and where the political and religious leaders have whipped up a murderous anti-gay witch-hunt, Jackie’s only option was physical resistance. On 10th January, on Qatar Airways Flight QR76, Jackie fought bravely for her freedom with all the strength she could gather against four Reliance guards. She continued fighting when the guards drew curtains round their end of the plane to hide their crimes. She struggled for as long as she could until, beaten up, half strangled and bent double, she was overcome by the pain in her chest and neck and was unable to breathe.

When Jackie arrived at Entebbe Airport the ‘escort’ party handed her over to the Ugandan authorities, who held her for many more hours without any medical attention. When family members finally met her, long after the flight had landed, Jackie was in terrible pain and vomiting blood; they rushed her to a clinic, but in a country with widespread poverty and limited medical facilities they were unable to get the medical attention Jackie needed. Since Jackie was in hiding as a known lesbian, protected by relatives, every trip to a doctor or hospital involved a risk to her life and to the safety of her family. They were condemned to watch the agonising decline of Jackie’s health and strength over the next two months.

I’m not an expert on asylum, but deporting gay people to Uganda does seem like an unfortunate policy…

Comments

  1. Rob says

    Who exactly were the Reliance guards and why are they not facing assault or grievous bodily harm charges at a minimum?

  2. Claire Ramsey says

    I’m not an expert on asylum either. But this sounds like manslaughter to me. I cannot imagine what the witnesses (who must have heard what was going on even if they could not see past the curtain the cowardly security put up) thought was going on. What about the flight crew? Does Qatar Airways permit murders to take place on their flights? This is sickening. (And I’m not even counting all of the insults and injuries she suffered while undergoing her asylum proceedings).

    What the FUCK IS WRONG WITH THESE PEOPLE????

  3. Pteryxx says

    According to the article, Reliance is a private security contractor that provides deportation services to the UK government. As in the US, hiring contractors for the dirty work means both sides can dodge responsibility – the corporation or government blames the contractors, the contractors blame the government.

  4. Francisco Bacopa says

    At least she died fighting, that’s worth something. Better that than a longer living death and probably an early death by other means. “We will die rather than go back” sends a pretty strong message.

    Would Ugandans have a better chance at getting asylum in the US? What about Mexico? They have pretty good asylum laws in Mexico. What about Canada, or even Cuba?

  5. emily isalwaysright says

    I am not comforted that she died fighting. Not at all. There is no comfort here, none whatsoever.

  6. Walton says

    Thank you for writing about this, Ophelia. I’ve been increasingly angry over the last few months that the British media has largely ignored Jackie Nanyonjo’s death. The immigration enforcement system is cruel and violent and horrifying, and it’s time we started talking about it.

    I’m not an expert on asylum, but deporting gay people to Uganda does seem like an unfortunate policy…

    Tragically, it is something that happens all the time. Our asylum claims process is cruel, arbitrary and unfit for purpose. Most asylum-seekers are put on the “Detained Fast Track”, which means they’re held in hellhole detention centres like Yarl’s Wood or Harmondsworth while their claims are being processed. And most are disbelieved. Look at this report: [Trigger warning]

    Kim-Ly – no real names are used in this article – was trafficked into the UK from Vietnam, and forced to work as a prostitute. Terrified about her fate at the hands of her traffickers if forced back to Vietnam, she claimed asylum. She found a system that was in turns confusing and intimidating.

    When she attended the Asylum Screening Unit (ASU) in Croydon to make her claim, she was required to disclose information about sex work in the earshot of queuing strangers, and was particularly unsettled by the presence of other Vietnamese asylum seekers. Understandably uncomfortable, Kim-Ly was hesitant in her answers; when her interpreter shouted at her to speak more loudly, she burst into tears. Her children were with her throughout, as there are no childcare facilities at ASU to protect them from hearing traumatic details about abuse and persecution. Later, at her substantive asylum interview, her interpreter was a man, despite her express request for a woman. Kim-Ly agreed to proceed with the interview, not least because, after her experience at ASU, she had arranged for her children to be looked after elsewhere. In common with the overwhelming majority of asylum claims, her application was refused.

    There was evidence in the research, too, of deeply inappropriate questioning at interview. Emiola, having claimed asylum after bring trafficked from Nigeria to work in the sex trade, was asked whether she enjoyed being a prostitute, and how many men she had slept with.

    And for LGBT asylum-seekers like Jackie, they are often not believed, and often face deportation to countries where their life is in danger. One immigration lawyer who works with LGBT asylum-seekers says that they are often subject to “inhuman and degrading” pressure to “prove” their sexuality or gender identity.

  7. medivh says

    “We will die rather than go back” sends a pretty strong message.

    The only message I read into this was the one the British government sent: “Rather die than go back? You have no choice. Fight, and you’ll die after you’ve been sent back.”

    Most asylum-seekers are put on the “Detained Fast Track”, which means they’re held in hellhole detention centres like Yarl’s Wood or Harmondsworth while their claims are being processed.

    It’s much the same in Australia, I’m sorry to say…

  8. Tim Harris says

    Are there any questions being raised about this and other cases in newspapers, etc in Britain?

  9. Walton says

    Are there any questions being raised about this and other cases in newspapers, etc in Britain?

    Tragically, no. The media seems to be largely ignoring her death. (Which is why I’m trying to get the word out.)

    She’s not the first person to die at the hands of immigration enforcement – the same happened to Jimmy Mubenga, in 2010. But few British people even know about this. Nor do they know what life is like for detainees in immigration removal centres, such as Yarl’s Wood in Bedfordshire, where Jackie Nanyonjo was imprisoned along with many other women refugees.

  10. sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d says

    It’s interesting that it was on a Qatar Airlines plane and behind closed curtains that Ms Nanyonjo was so treated. There have been cases where pilots have refused to accept forcibly-deported refugees as passengers and where other passengers have intervened. http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2012/09/05/uk-border-agency-halts-deportation-of-lesbian-asylum-seeker-bound-for-cameroon/ or http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/oct/31/witnesses-thrown-off-deportation-flight for example

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