UN Special Rapporteur voices concern over undignified treatment of migrants

Jorge Bustamante airs concern over Jimmy Mubenga’s death

25th October 2010: Even as the police arrested three men in connection with Jimmy Mubenga’s death, United Nations independent experts on human rights have aired concern over the reported death onboard a flight.

UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants Jorge Bustamante has, in fact, said he was disturbed at the manner in which migrants were being treated with no dignity at all.

An Angolan refugee, Mubenga had collapsed while he was being escorted on a flight from Heathrow airport in London. He was in the custody of guards for a private security company, after his appeal to remain in the European country was rejected.

The UK Border Agency, in the meantime, has “responded to the Guardian newspaper following their publication of footage of an illegal immigrant being returned to their home country”.

The UKBA has asserted: `Enforced returns are a vital part of a viable immigration policy, which relies on the government’s ability to enforce the return of those with no legal right to be in the UK who refuse to leave voluntarily’.

In a statement, the UKBA has also made clear “it will investigate any inappropriate use of restraint used on the flight if the footage demonstrates that this was the case”.

Expressing concern, UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants Jorge Bustamante in a statement said: ‘I am disturbed at seeing the manner in which migrants are being treated, with no dignity at all, due to the criminalization of irregular migration which leads to such a situation.’

Mubenga reportedly died 50 minutes after boarding a British Airways flight at Heathrow airport in London on 13 October 2010. He was reportedly surrounded by three guards working for G4S, a private security company, when he died.

Bustamante said: ‘I hope the fact that British Airways staff responsible for safety and security on board did not intervene, despite numerous cries for help, is not a reflection of a growing indifference to the human rights of persons under custody of an authority.
He, along with the UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries, welcomed the UK Government’s probe into the incident.

The Metropolitan police had earlier confirmed that the men interviewed by them at a west London police station were released on bail.

So far none of the three earlier arrested have been charged. The police sources were cautious enough to say they were only interviewed "in connection" with the death.

In a statement, Scotland Yard said police investigating the circumstances surrounding the death of Jimmy Mubenga in west London arrested three men “by appointment” at a West London police station.

All have been bailed to a date in December pending further inquiries. Inquiries continue to establish the full circumstances of the incident. The death is being treated as unexplained at this stage.

Witnesses had earlier told the Guardian Mubenga was handcuffed as he sat between two guards at the rear of the aircraft. He was kept restrained in his seat, as he began shouting and seeking to resist his deportation.

The passengers, sitting nearby, reported Mubenga shouting "I can’t breathe" before he finally passed out.

G4S said in a statement: "Three of our employees are continuing to help the police with their investigation. As a result of that ongoing investigation we are unable to provide additional comment at this time."

MPs have already called for a "wide-ranging and independent inquiry" into the UK’s deportation system in light of the death.

Keith Vaz, chair of the Commons home affairs select committee, said he would be writing to home secretary Theresa May, and G4S about possible questions surrounding the death.

He added if, as eyewitness reports suggest, Mubenga was complaining of breathing difficulties, questions must be asked as to why help was not called for sooner.

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