Protocol for the deportation of migrants to allow straightjackets and helmets
On 3 September 2007, El País newspaper reported that the interior ministry has prepared a draft protocol of security norms regulating police officers' conduct in the course of repatriations, that envisages that undocumented migrants may be forced to wear straightjackets and a helmet during deportation flights, for their own security and to stop migrants from causing themselves self-harm. The protocol was deemed necessary to implement Council of Europe (CoE) directives, and as a result of the increasing numbers of deportations, 8,530 in 2007 in both chartered and commercial flights, particularly after the death of Osamuyia Aikpitanhi of a cardio-respiratory failure resulting from asphyxia as he was gagged with tape and had his feet and hands tied, on an Iberia flight from Madrid to Lagos (Nigeria) on 9 June 2007 (see Statewatch vol. 17 no. 2). Aikpitanhi's relatives alleged that his death had resulted from him being been ill-treated by officers escorting him. Deportees will have to embark with a medical report detailing "any medical circumstance that may affect the expulsion" and the police officer in charge may suspend the expulsion if it does guarantee a "safe and dignified transfer". They will be handcuffed with laces (not rigid, unlike handcuffs), have their seatbelts fastened throughout the flight, except for when they go to the bathroom, in which case they will be escorted, and will be informed before the flight that resistance will not lead to the flight being cancelled. If they resist violently, "they may be immobilised by means that do not endanger their physical integrity or compromise their vital functions", using "proportional" force and respecting their "honour and dignity".
The use of "helmets for self-protection" to stop them from causing themselves harm (Aikpitanhi is alleged to have banged his head against the aeroplane) and of "belts and authorised immobilisation clothing" (acting somewhat like straightjackets securing the arms to the body) is envisaged, although they are reported not to currently be part of the police force's regulatory equipment. The officer in charge will "direct operations to re-establish order", in communication with the captain, if there is unrest by passengers in the aircraft. The draft protocol provides for one unarmed officer to be sat on each side of the deportee, that they may not be photographed, and that they may not disembark in the countries they travel to, "particularly Nigeria", while local authorities will also be discouraged from boarding the aircraft. Repatriated migrants will disembark one by one, without handcuffs or other means of coercion, as a cosmetic measure not to make them look like prisoners, an image that could be used by opposition parties in countries of origin.
Criticism of these measures was voiced by Izquierda Unida (United Left), whose general co-ordinator Gaspar Llamazares accused the government of being willing to incur in "inhuman and degrading" treatment to deport migrants, allowing the policy of expulsions to prevail over "rights", the Andalusian ombudsman, who said that repatriations must be conducted while "respecting human rights" and without "misusing" means such as straightjackets, and Amnesty International, which criticised the absence of CoE recommendations such as "the absolute prohibition of adhesive tape and the use of helmets and straightjackets, which may cause postural asphyxia". This last claim is borne out by a precedent involving the death by asphyxia on 30 May 1999 of Aamir Mohamed Ageeb, a Sudanese asylum seeker who was embarked on an aeroplane flying from Germany to Cairo wearing a helmet, one of a number of people deported from EU countries to have died of asphyxia.
Thus, while European tourists are warned of the dangers of "economy class syndrome", EU governments continue to regulate the practices resulting from their restrictive immigration policies, decreeing that returning undocumented migrants to their countries in flights lasting several hours with their hands tied, belts buckled, and even wearing helmets or straightjackets, for their own well-being, is respectful of their dignity and safety. Concerns over the cosmetic impact of these practices in countries of origin are an example of how authorities themselves perceive the need to conceal the graphic image of how policies portrayed as neutral and uncontroversial are translated into practice.
El País, 3-4.9.2007.
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