RAPAR member who was on the plane stopped by the Stansted protesters shocked by their conviction under anti terror laws
Rally at 5.30pm-6.30pm
St Peter's Square,
December 18th 2018
Manchester-based human rights organisation RAPAR will be at the city centre rally today (December 18th) to show support for the 15 peaceful protesters convicted under anti terror laws after they stopped a Home Office charter flight taking people seeking asylum in the UK to Africa.
A RAPAR member was on the plane protesters prevented taking off at Stansted Airport in March 2017. He was one of 60 refugees who were on the charter flight bound for Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone – he informed the escort officers that he did not come from any of those countries but was told that the country he was being sent to was near to his home country and that he could “get a bus”.
Our member, whose case had not been resolved, was one of the unlucky people on the flight which eventually left Stansted the following day. But the courageous action of the protesters prevented 11 people seeking asylum from being removed from the UK. The delay meant that those 11 people were able to access their lawyers and their removal was stopped.
RAPAR's member, who wishes to remain anonymous, said he was very shocked by the conviction at Chelmsford Crown Court which could see the 15 protesters facing life imprisonment.
Today is International Migrants' Day and there will be rallies throughout the UK and Ireland to protest about the conviction of the Stansted protesters. In Manchester, there will be a demonstration from 5.30pm-6.30pm in St Peter's Square and RAPAR urges everyone to attend.
The charges facing the Stansted 15 were unjust. Commenting on the use of anti terror laws against the Stansted 15, former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg (who was released without charge) said: “Despite being imprisoned under terrorism laws by both Britain and America, I have no convictions. The Stansted 15 on the other hand are convicted terrorists in Britain today.
“One day, as a nation, Britain will look back and ask itself 'What have we become?' Sadly, that day is not today.”
Dr Rhetta Moran, of RAPAR, said it was “intensely ironic” that all the refugee people on the Stansted 15 plane were being removed to one of three former British colonies – Ghana, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.
“As our refugee members often remark: 'We are here because You were there',” she said.
Dr Moran added: “This conviction is the latest attempt to criminalise public protest that RAPAR first detected - and successfully resisted - in 2010 in Bolton.
“Then, the State sought to prosecute anti-fascists for exposing and stopping the English Defence League from running amok in Bolton.
“Now, their use of anti-terror laws to criminalise young British citizens who take peaceful, direct, solidarity action with Refugees is the latest in a long line of backward and cynical moves on the part of the prevailing politico-legal elite.
“It demonstrates an abject failure to confront the fact that young British people are deeply and increasingly concerned about what the British State is doing in the name of its people.
“It is not the Protesters or the Refugees who are the dangerous ones here.”
A Guinean man who has made his home in Manchester for the last 12 years has been caught up in a Home Office "whirlpool" of bureaucracy.
Nestor Sylla, who is vice-chair of RAPAR and is involved with other charitable organisations in the city, came to Europe at the age of 26 looking for his mother after the death of his father and the murder of his sister in Guinea.
Nestor did not find his mother but discovered new friends in Manchester who are now his family. He met Quaker Elizabeth Coleman through a hosting scheme for people who have come to the UK seeking asylum and have ended up destitute and homeless. Later, he helped Elizabeth and others run the Boaz Trust winter night shelter based at the Friends' Meeting House in Manchester.
Elizabeth, who is retired, said: “Nestor's home is England. He is like a son to me and has a lot to contribute to our society.” When Elizabeth was ill, Nestor visited her in hospital and was a vital carer for her when she was discharged.
Nestor also supports another friend and her five children, helping with homework, taking them to school and the dentist, and attending parents' evenings. He says: “All these people are now my only family.”
Nestor arrived in Europe looking for his mother, a French citizen who left the family home after the death of his father. His travel was paid for by a woman who said she was a friend of his mother's and a passport for him was arranged.
When he came to the UK, Nestor went to the job centre to find work and showed them his passport. He was accused of having a false travel document and was arrested and imprisoned in Strangeways but was cleared of the charge and released.
Nestor was advised to apply for asylum and his case was being considered under the old Legacy system but his immigration solicitor missed a Home Office deadline. His complaint against the solicitor was upheld.
Last year, Nestor was unlawfully detained at Brook House Immigration Removal Centre at Gatwick Airport – which featured in a BBC Panorama investigation and led to 10 members of staff being suspended.
He was detained despite having submitted a Further Leave to Remain application and having proof of postage and delivery. When his solicitor applied for bail, the Home Office misled the judge saying a decision would be made on the case by July 21st 2017 and, because of this assurance, Nestor remained in detention at Brook House. He was finally released the following month after it became apparent that the Home Office had not even looked at the application.
Earlier this year, the Home Office wrote to Nestor rejecting his application because they said he had used the wrong form. He enlisted the support of his MP Lucy Powell to show that the correct form had been used. The Home Office then claimed they had not received an application, despite the fact that they had also written to Nestor advising him that his fee waiver application, which is included in the Leave to Remain application, had been accepted. RAPAR asked how the Home Office had rejected a Leave to Remain application and accepted a fee waiver request on a document they claimed not to have received.
One solicitor has described the Home Office as having Nestor in a “whirlpool” of bureaucracy. RAPAR believes there are many queries over this case which have not been answered satisfactorily. Last week, the Home Office rejected Nestor's Leave to Remain application and have said he must now leave the UK or risk detention and removal.
“Nestor has been unjustly treated and unlawfully detained. The Home Office has made numerous errors and is not answering an important request for information,” Elizabeth says.
A RAPAR spokesperson said: “Nestor is a refugee who came to this country when his life had been threatened and he had lost his immediate family. On arrival in the UK, he was wrongfully criminalised and remanded in prison for several months. Yet, despite all this, he has led an exemplary life volunteering for organisations like the Red Cross and Mustard Tree, as well as RAPAR and the Boaz night shelter. He has helped care for Elizabeth and the children of his friend Marie and all these people are now his family.
“In their refusal letter, the Home Office says Nestor can go back to Guinea – where his life was at risk and his sister was murdered – and suggests that people whose immigration status is 'precarious' should not be making close personal relationships in the UK.
“Is it the Home Office's position that people who have fled death threats, torture and persecution should be making preparations to return to their home country while they are seeking asylum and safety in the UK? That I have cared for people while living here? Does the Home Office expect that a person can spend 12 years in a country and not form attachments to others and they form attachments to me?”