“Carpet Karaoke” and forced removals from UK

“Carpet Karaoke” involves forcing an individual’s face down towards the carpet with such force that they are only able to scream inarticulately ‘like a bad karaoke singer’. That ‘singer’ is seated, handcuffed, with a tight seatbelt through the cuffs and their head pushed down between their legs. There is a serious risk of death by positional asphyxia as a result.

Amnesty has been informed that this is one of several unauthorised and dangerous ‘control and restraint’ techniques used by private security contractors during forced removals of people from the UK, mainly on flights from Gatwick and Heathrow. We want it stopped, and we’re launching a campaign today to bring removals, and the private security contractors conducting them, under control.

Jimmy Mubenga died in October last year during a ‘forced removal’ flight from Heathrow, bound for Angola. Waiting to take off, he phoned his wife and spoke to her about how he didn’t want to leave her and their five children. He said he’d call her back, and hung up. Jimmy died that evening, before the plane even took off.

Other people on the commercial flight later told the Guardian how they’d heard Jimmy shouting and crying out for help as he was forcibly restrained by the private security contractors accompanying him. One witness said they heard him saying “they are trying to kill me…I can’t breathe”

The three contractors, from the company G4S, are now on bail awaiting a police decision whether to charge them with manslaughter.

G4S don’t have the removals contract any more, it’s another company called Reliance. But almost the entire removals staff of G4S now works for Reliance – so the problem remains.

I’ve met with people who have conducted these ‘forced removals’ as part of the research for our new media briefing, “Out of Control”, released today. They’re not monsters. In fact they were worried about the poor training of removals staff, which puts them at risk too; and about the dangerous ‘control and restraint’ techniques that were used.

I also met Jimmy Mubenga’s widow Adrienne Makenda Kambana, who is now bringing up five children without a father. She believes that her husband might still be alive today if an independent monitor had been on the removal flight with Jimmy in October, to check he was being treated humanely.

The new campaign, backed by Adrienne, urges people to go to www.amnesty.org.uk/removal and take action by writing to Home Secretary Theresa May, urging independent monitoring of all enforced removals and improved training for removals staff. I hope you’ll get involved.

We’re not opposing removals per se – in fact neither the report nor the campaign is about the rights and wrongs of removing people. It’s about how they’re treated during the removal process. We acknowledge that the UK government does need to remove some people from the country, but there is no reason why this can’t be done safely and with respect for people’s human rights.

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