A 23-year-old won the right to stay in the UK and mount a legal case against his deportation just hours before the government put him on a “life or death” flight to Jamaica.
Tajay Thompson, from Battersea, was one of the ‘Jamaica 50’ – a group of 50 people the Home Office call “foreign national offenders” – set to be deported to Jamaica on Tuesday morning.
But in a last-ditch legal victory he was told 12 hours before that he would not be put on the plane.
He has spent a total of up to 14 months in different immigration detention centres on three occasions in the last six years – and said he has witnessed suicides, drug use and violence.
He served seven-and-a-half months in prison for possession of a class-A drug when he was 17 years old and went straight to a detention centre after that.
“I’m still effectively in prison,” said Tajay. “I’m so stressed out not being with my family. I feel hopeless.
“I’ve been going through this for six years. I could have a mortgage by now. It’s wasting my life away. I’m angry.
“The system is like a loop. I can’t get a passport or settled status so I keep getting sent back to the detention centre.
“There’s people in here double my age and a lot of criminals. There’s a lot going on.
“If you’re not strong enough you might hang yourself. People kill themselves here. My friend killed himself and it messed up my head.
“Someone else tried to hang himself from the balcony. My friend grabbed him and saved him. I’m sick and tired of seeing these things. There’s a lot of drugs in these places. It’s not a good place to be.”
Tajay was born in Jamaica and moved to the UK when he was five years old with his mother and younger brother.
He added: “The system is designed for people like me to lose. Instead of spending millions to send us back why don’t you help us?
“There should be a limit on how long a person can stay in these detention centres.
“They’re trying to break me. I love life. I love London. I love my friends and family.
“How could you do this to a guy who’s been here for 19 years? Where am I going to run to? This is all I know. I’m not a criminal or a thug. Just a person trying to see my family.
“I’m very happy I came off the plane. Very grateful. I just want a chance at life and not be looking behind my back all the time. I want to be happy and move on.”
Tajay will now spend two weeks at Colnbrook detention centre in Heathrow on bail before a judge decides whether he can apply for settled status. If not, he will be sent back to the detention centre for a further 28 days before he can appeal again.
Tajay’s mother, Carline Angus, 43, who works on the housekeeping department of Evelina Children’s Hospital in Waterloo, said: “My son deserves a reprieve. It shouldn’t have gone this far. He’s done his time. He’s been here since he was five years old. It’s all unnecessary stress. Painful – very painful for me.
“All our family are here. He’d be dead in six months in Jamaica.
“It’s a cruel and inhuman immigration system. Heartless. One stupid mistake when he was 17. Give him a chance and let him rebuild his life.”
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “The welfare of those in Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs) is of paramount importance and it is crucial that detention is carried out with dignity and respect.
“Drug use in Colnbrook is minimal, and there has not been a self-inflicted death in two years. Staff at all IRCs are trained to identify and prevent the risk of suicide and self-harm.”
Duncan Lewis Solicitors representing Tajay and a spokeswoman said: “Tajay Thompson was due to be deported to Jamaica on a charter flight on February 11 2020. We were successful in obtaining an injunction preventing his removal on the flight.
“Mr. Thompson arrived in the UK at the age of five. He has completed his primary and secondary education in the UK, and attended college in the UK.
“His parents and extended family are all resident in the UK. At the age of 17 he was forced and threatened into selling drugs, and in October 2015 he was convicted for drug offences.
“We provided the Secretary of State evidence relating to Mr Thompson’s case along with detailed submissions as to why he should not be removed from the UK.
“Despite our efforts, the Secretary of State was determined to proceed with the removal without giving proper consideration to the evidence and our submissions. Mr Thompson’s removal was only stopped after we successfully obtained an injunction.
“In granting a stay of removal, the judge recognised that Mr Thompson’s claim was meritorious. He now has the opportunity to pursue his claim in the UK without the threat of removal.”