‘Act jamaican,’ they said when they deported me. but i’m british michelle blake opinion the guardian

I was 27 when I was deported from the UK to Jamaica, so I am not a Windrush migrant – but my great grandparents were. They moved to the UK in the early 1950s. Over time, they invited their children over, and most of my family have always lived in England.

That’s the thing with Jamaicans: there’s as many of us abroad as “back home”, and migration is a way of life. Or rather, migration is a means of survival. Our families are transnational – we live between places. And so when my mum moved to the UK, in 2000, she sent for me two years later.

I celebrated my 13th birthday in the UK and lived there for more than half of my life. But it was a life made so much harder than it need to be by the Home Office.


All I wanted was a normal life: to go to college, to work, to hang out with my friends, and to support my mum. But I was “illegal”, and so I couldn’t work or pursue my education, and it was incredibly difficult.

Things weren’t easy for either of us. My mum didn’t have her right to stay, and had to work cleaning public toilets and doing whatever her boss told her. I remember she used to cry all the time, especially when it was cold, and we had hardly money to buy food. We’d turn the house upside down just to find enough coins to buy a large chips and wings, and then we’d share it, happy at least to be together.

When I was 19, I was living with a friend, and she fell into debt arrears and was threatened with eviction. We needed money to keep a roof over our heads, and agreed to collect some drugs for some guys. The police raided us on arrival and I was arrested.

Of course, I regret it. That offence made it much harder for me to fix my stay. I know there are people who will say I’m a “foreign criminal”, but what does it mean to call me “foreign”? I never felt like “a migrant”. I was just trying to build a life in the place I called home, and deportation has been the worst punishment imaginable.

I was exiled from my mum, my partner, and my stepkids. I left my friends, my memories and my home. I was forced on to a charter flight in the middle of the night, denied all appeal rights, and sent to a country I did not know. Jamaica is not my home. Jamaica is where I am a foreigner.

I remember reading the Coming Home to Jamaica booklet in detention. The immigration officers and detention staff try to paint a rosy picture of Jamaica: they tell you about these organisations that will help you; they say there’ll be people waiting for you at the airport; that these organisations will help you with financial support until you get a job. These are false hopes, these are lies, but sometimes they are all detainees have.

I just found the booklet frightening. It told me to “travel where possible in the day”, to “keep my cash and personal items hidden from view” and to “try to find lodgings in areas that are considered safe”. It told me not to “walk around after dark in unfamiliar places”, not to “discuss my personal situation with people I was not familiar with” and not to “allow strangers to know my destination”. It definitely did not make me feel like I was “coming home”.

When I came back, I felt this kind of embarrassment: a stigma. As a deported person you feel small; people stare at you. People don’t understand you and laugh at your “proper English”. When you go to buy things, they can tell that you’re “foreign”, and all of a sudden the price doubles.

I stand out. I walk into places I don’t know and people shout: “Foreigner, let me sell you something.” So yes, overseas accents do attract unwanted attention, but what am I supposed to do about it? One thing is for sure, being sent from the UK to Jamaica was not “coming home”.