Britain's Detention of Visiting Jamaicans Spurs Racism Charges London Officials Refuse to Explain Reasons for Interrogation but Say Drugs Were Not a Factor
Alexander MacLeod, Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
THE British government is having to defend itself against charges that it is adopting a racist approach to immigration control.
It is also embroiled in a diplomatic row with Jamaica over the allegedly unfair treatment by immigration officials of Caribbean citizens attempting to visit Britain during the Christmas holiday.
The dispute broke out after 190 of 323 passengers on a chartered jet from Kingston, Jamaica, were placed in detention by Home Office officials at London's Gatwick Airport on Dec. 22.
After 48 hours of close questioning, 56 of the Jamaicans were denied entry to Britain. Twenty-seven of them were sent back to Kingston after being told that they would never be allowed to enter Britain. Others returned home voluntarily. About 100 of the 190 originally detained were granted temporary admission.
Police and immigration officials refused requests by journalists and photographers to cover the deportation of the 27 Jamaicans and declined to explain why they had been sent home.
In taking such tough and unusual action, the immigration authorities were touching a raw nerve in British society. There are up to 1.5 million non-white citizens living in Britain, and a high proportion of them are of Caribbean origin.
The widespread public perception in Britain is that Jamaicans are active in gangs connected with the narcotics trade. Home Office spokesmen say this was not a factor in the airport detentions.
All of the would-be visitors at Gatwick told officials they had arrived for short-term stays, and most claimed to be visiting relatives. More than 500 Jamaican friends and relatives were kept waiting at the airport while the detentions continued. Court challenge
Claude Moraes, director of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, describes the British authorities' action as "a disgrace" and "a total humiliation for black people." He says his organization plans to challenge the action in court.
Mr. Moraes worries that Britain may soon begin demanding visas from Caribbean citizens wishing to enter Britain. Such visas are not required under current law.
Bill Morris, Jamaican-born general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, the country's largest, has written to Prime Minister John Major, demanding an explanation for the treatment of the visitors on the pre-Christmas flight.
In a complaint to London, the Jamaican government reminded Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd that 32,000 Jamaicans visit Britain each year and demanded to know whether there had been any change in the entry criteria being applied. …