Case Study

Jimmy Mubenga and the plane (UK)

Case study

Mr Jimmy Mubenga, from Angola, died on 12 October 2010 whilst resisting deportation from the UK as his flight to Luanda was preparing for take-off from London Heathrow.

Despite years of mobilization since his death on board, and public inquests, no one has been held to account.

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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are respectfully advised that this case study may contain images of and references to deceased persons.

All viewers are respectfully advised that this study contains images of and references to the deaths in custody of Indigenous peoples, Black people and refugees that may cause distress.

At the same time, each screen of these case studies testifies to target communities' strength and courage, as they respond to repeated deaths in custody through myriad creative forms, through lines of solidarity and through an unwavering call for justice.

Introduction

Jimmy Mubenga lived and worked legally in the UK after fleeing Angola with his wife in 1994. In 2010 he lost his appeal to remain in the country.

Mr Mubenga started to resist as he was being escorted on to the plane by the private security company, G4S. He was in their custody when he died not long afterwards. According to other passengers G4S employees used excessive force to hold him down in his seat.

This first timeline reconstructs events in the hour leading up to Mubenga’s death on British Airways Flight 77. It draws on public inquest records, news reports, campaign material, and investigative journalism.

Jimmy Mubenga picture
Photograph: The Guardian, Graeme Robertson.

Timeline 1: The last hour of Jimmy Mubenga’s life – a reconstruction

Timeline 2: Before and after the plane

The second timeline below reconstructs Mr Mubenga’s life after arriving in the UK, and the repercussions of his death. This reconstruction shows how the case developed as a series of overlapping events. It also includes the work of key participants: investigative journalists from The Guardian; Inquest, a charity that provides expertise on deaths in custody cases and support for the bereaved, and G4S, the global security company charged with carrying out deportations. Other participants include legal advice and support agencies such as Garden Court Chambers, and international NGOs such as Medical JusticeAmnesty International UK, Right to Remain.

Implications

G4S is a global corporation with employees around the world working in the deportation and detention business for governments such as the UK, Australia, and Israel. What happened to Jimmy Mubenga, in broad daylight on board a commercial flight, raises uncomfortable questions for other passengers, and flight crews, as they become witnesses of an unlawful killing by government representatives.

Once hidden, deportations become more visible

The system of transportation of deportees is becoming more visible yet accountability more opaque: “A deeper sense of this world of transportation comes from the study of controversies involving the treatment of deportees on flights. It is when normal procedures fail, when eyewitnesses or operatives speak out, or when public inquiries examine wrongs that the opaque world of the transportation of deportees becomes more fully visible” (Walters, 2016).

Other passengers on Flight BA77: passive witnesses or circumstantial accomplices?

There have been instances when witnesses get kicked off flights and interrogated as a result of questioning the violence exercised against deportees in commercial flights. Taylor and Lewis (2010 ) report that “Two passengers who attempted to voice their concern as a man was “violently” deported aboard a flight from Heathrow say they were thrown off the aircraft and quizzed by armed police”. Some witnesses have thought that private security guards were police officers.

According to Ben, another witness, passengers were moved away from the rear of the aircraft, and into first class. “You could hear the guy [Mubenga] screaming at the back of the plane,” said Ben. “He was saying: ‘They are going to kill me”.  “BA stewards are understood to have moved two women sitting in the row of seats adjacent to those occupied by Mubenga and the guards”. The vacated seats were taken up by Kevin Wallis, a 58-year-old engineer, who confirms he had full view of the ensuing confrontation just a few feet away.

Normalising or resisting complicity?

An insight into the responses of witness to the forced removal of Mr Mubenga is useful to extend our understanding of the complex emotions arising from his death. On the one hand, the witnesses who spoke out have greatly contributed to making this case visible to the public and, thereby, initiating investigations and inquests. On the other hand, however, when passengers witness deportations in commercial flights, they too run risks if they speak up. Passengers who were present when Mr Mubenga was killed have made comments later such as:

  • “I didn’t get involved because I was scared I would get kicked off the flight and lose my job. But that man paid a higher price than I would have.” (Michael, 51, a US citizen).
  • Other witnesses were reluctant to give their full names, fearing for their safety in Angola (The Guardian, 2010).
  • Is witnessing the distress of a deportee becoming normalised? “Wallis told his wife it was a deportation, and put the phone down” (Lewis and Taylor, 2010).

Resistance is possible

A group of 15 activists tried on March 2017 to stop secret charter deportation flight to Nigeria and Ghana from taking off from Stansted airport in London, the UK carrying failed asylum seekers and other migrants, by locking themselves to the wheel and the base of the plane as a form of demonstration against the mas deportation of refugees and asylum seekers that is taking place. While at first the Stansted 15 activists were charged with aggravated trespass, the charges were soon were upgraded to terrorism-related offences.

Stansted anti-deportation protesters block flight to Nigeria and Ghana. Source: Facebook and Guardian (2017).

In some cases, passengers have decided to halt the forcible deportation of refugees on board. The next video shows two passengers making clear their objections to the deportation of Eze Okafor from Nigeria at an Icelandair flight.

Source: NoBordersIceland YoutubeChannel.


“Support the Stansted 15: When solidarity becomes a terrorist-related offence liberty and democracy die”

Yanis Varoufakis, 2018


 

Allegedly 500 deaths in custody since 1991 – though not one conviction

According to INQUEST (2017), the charity supporting families of victims who die in custody,  there have been no successful murder or manslaughter prosecutions of state agents involved in a death in police custody or prison. Yet 10 unlawful killing conclusions (formerly known as verdicts) have been found and upheld.

There are around 500 people from the black or minority ethnic communities who have died as a result of interaction with police or prison or immigration officers or their private proxies (defendtherighttoprotest.org, 2016).

Jimmy Mubenga and his wife Adrienne Makenda Kambana Jimmy Mubenga and his wife Adrienne Makenda Kambana (The Guardian, 2014) and PA

 

Outsourcing state-sanctioned racial violence and abuse

Mr Mubenga’s case encapsulates documented evidence that the outsourcing of detention and deportation management contributes to a culture of state-sanctioned force during the detention and removal of out-processed asylum seekers (Peirce and Partners, 2008).

Outsourcing abuse Report by Medical Justice
Outsourcing abuse Report by Medical Justice

Secret deportation flights

The UK government also uses secret charter flights to deport thousands of failed asylum seekers and refugees. Many activists and organisations claim that forceful deportation is violent, abusive and potentially unlawful (mediadiversified.org, Nadine El-Enany, 2018). It can be inferred from some studies that deportation is a discrimination in disproportionately as it is affecting people racialised as non-white (The Migration Observatory, 2018).

In other situations, pilots have stopped deportation by refusing to fly the plane: for example, a Turkish airline pilot:

Source: RT UK YouTube channel. Published on 31 Aug 2017

Globalizing Deathscapes: their deaths, our complicity – who is responsible?

Other case studies underscore the globalised dimensions to governments relying on private companies in outsourced forms of forceful, violent deportation, and detention of human-beings racially categorized as “illegal” and ‘unwanted’. These dehumanizing procedures, for government agents and witnesses, include the physical removal of children, young persons, and adults from a designated jurisdiction by opaque judicial procedures, by stealth, and in public by force.

Case Study 3 – At a Lethal Intersection: the Killing of Ms Dhu

Case Study 1 – The Road: Passage Through the Deathscape

Alan Kurdi and the boat (EU)

This case study was collectively authored by the EU/UK Hub of the Deathscapes project: Marianne Franklin and Raed Yacoub

To cite this research: Yacoub, Raed and Franklin M.I. 2018, “Jimmy Mubenga and the Plane”: Deathscapes: Mapping Race and Violence in Settler Societies, https://www.deathscapes.org/case-studies/jimmy-mubenga-case-study/

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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are respectfully advised that this website contains images of and references to deceased persons.

All viewers are respectfully advised that the site contains images of and references to the deaths in custody of Indigenous peoples, Black people and refugees that may cause distress.

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