Akala, Lineker and Tracey Emin lead calls for airlines not to carry out refugee removal flights to Rwanda

Exclusive: Signatories include musician and author Akala, football pundit Gary Lineker OBE, Bridgerton actress Adjoah Andoh, artist Tracey Emin

Nadine White
Race Correspondent
Friday 10 June 2022 15:00 BST
<p>Home secretary Priti Patel and Rwandan minister for foreign affairs and international cooperation Vincent Biruta</p>

Home secretary Priti Patel and Rwandan minister for foreign affairs and international cooperation Vincent Biruta

More than 90 public figures have written to the airlines suspected to be carrying refugees to Rwanda next week, urging them not to fly the 100 or more people whom the Home Office has targeted for removal.

Signatories include musician and author Akala, football pundit Gary Lineker OBE, Bridgerton actress Adjoa Andoh and artist Tracey Emin, along with a number of prominent musicians, activists, writers, journalists and lawyers.

The letter, seen by The Independent, has been sent to three airlines known to have worked previously with the Home Office on deportation flights: Titan Airways, Privilege Style and Iberojet.

AirTanker, which has previously carried out Home Office removal flights, has now ruled itself out of participating in next week’s flights after a public campaign by the charity Freedom from Torture.

Zoe Gardner, policy and advocacy manager for the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), said: “Most of us want to see people fleeing danger treated with care and compassion, regardless of what they look like or where they were born. Yet Priti Patel seems determined to treat certain refugees sadistically, brandishing her cruelty towards them as a way of scoring headlines and diverting attention away from her crumbling party.

“No airline should be offering to aid and abet these racist and senseless plans, which we know will tear siblings apart and put lives in danger. That’s why so many of us are coming together and calling on airlines to refuse complicity in this government’s gross assault on human rights.

“We believe that people who’ve sought safety here should have their voices heard, their rights respected and be given the chance to rebuild their lives alongside their families and communities here.”

The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) and the charities Care4Calais and Detention Action issued judicial review proceedings in the High Court, challenging what they described as an “unlawful policy” by home secretary Priti Patel to remove asylum seekers to the east African nation, it emerged on Wednesday.

The first flight from the UK containing migrants is expected to leave next Tuesday, but lawyers for more than 90 migrants have already submitted legal challenges asking to be allowed to stay in the UK.

Home Office officials are thought to be anticipating that the remaining 38 or so notified to be on the 14 June flight will follow suit this week, but signatories are calling on the government to cancel the flight.

Meanwhile, members of the public have sent more than 15,000 letters of protest to airlines suspected of involvement in the Rwanda scheme, according to the JCWI, while a social media backlash saw several of the airlines delete posts from Instagram and LinkedIn because of negative comments.

The high-profile letter follows news that more than 100 people who have sought asylum in the UK, including people who have fled Syria, Sudan, Eritrea, Iran and Iraq, have been issued with removal notices for Rwanda, with some detainees scheduled to be removed on Tuesday 14 June.

The letter urges airline chiefs to refuse to operate any flights on 14 June, the first Rwanda removal flight this year, and to withhold from carrying out any future removals.

“We believe that everyone has the right to live a safe and dignified life…no matter what we look like, where we come from, or which borders we cross,” the letter reads.

Signatories also express concern that people are being denied the chance to reunite with family members here and are being flown thousands of miles away from their support networks against their will.

One person who was scheduled to be on the Rwanda flight, but has now had his ticket cancelled following their lawyer’s intervention, told The Independent: “We were living in a very difficult circumstances – we were tortured by smugglers. And now the government is doing the same – torturing us.

“I just want a normal peaceful life. I don’t know why they’ve put me here [in an immigration removal centre] and why they’ve threatened to send me to a country that people are fleeing themselves.

“Kurdish people have always fought for their freedom and I don’t think they would be able to live anywhere without freedom... I strongly reject the Rwandan government for making this deal. It is against basic human rights; they are killing humanity and doing it for money, and I oppose this.”

News of the UK-Rwanda agreement and upcoming removal flights emerged after Priti Patel’s Nationality and Borders Act passed earlier this year. The act makes it easier for the government to detain, criminalise and remove people who’ve sought safety in the UK.

The Home Office has been approached for comment.

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