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I crashed an airline industry dinner with 13 other anti-deportation activists – and this is why

While executives dined on luxury three-course meals at the Park Plaza Hotel in central London, thousands of migrants were – and still are – suffering

Sam Bjrn
Thursday 31 January 2019 13:14
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Why is the Home Office getting so many immigration decisions wrong?

Last night, in protest of the involvement of commercial airlines in deportations, myself and other activists from the group Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants (LGSMigrants) crashed the Airline UK Annual Dinner 2019 – attended by over 250 representatives across the airline sector and the government’s aviation minister, Baroness Liz Sugg.

Why did we ruin their three-course dinner? Because commercial airlines like British Airways enter into contracts with the Home Office to carry out what are, in our view, inhumane, often violent, and unjust deportations.

Disguised as guests, we infiltrated the venue and then proceeded to distribute 200 sick bags used on flights that carried the message “deportation contracts make us sick”. The 14 of us chanted that deportations are brutal, tear families and communities apart, and have been linked to deaths (in 2010, Jimmy Mubenga, an Angolan migrant, died on a British Airways flight of a cardiac arrest after being restrained on the plane).

One of us took to the stage to address the attendees and called on British Airways and other airlines to end their contracts with the Home Office. We were escorted from the venue after completing our protest and making our message clear: attendees should feel sick about their complicity in deportations.

While these airline industry executives dined on a luxury three-course meal at the four-star Park Plaza Hotel in central London, thousands of migrants worldwide were – and still are – struggling to make ends meet, having been forcibly removed from countries where they were seeking sanctuary.

The aim of last night’s dinner was for the aviation industry to celebrate the successes of last year and look towards future opportunities for the sector. One of which should have been turning their backs on the government’s racist and chaotic hostile environment.

Each year thousands of migrants are violently deported back to countries where they are vulnerable to persecution, extreme poverty, and severe harm. There are many awful stories such as that of Zainadin Fazlie, an Afghan man seeking refuge from the Taliban in the UK, shot dead by the terrorist group upon his return after being deported.

Migrants are deported back to places where they have little to no connections, places they haven’t been in years. Sometimes these deportations are unlawful, such the wrongful removal of more than 60 Windrush generation migrants from the UK. And there are many cases of last-minute legal challenges to deportations, often resulting in an overturn of a person's claim and them being granted leave to remain – a clear sign that the system is broken.

We are not alone in realising that when commercial airlines deport migrants it makes them complicit in brutal practices. Just last year, Virgin Atlantic that they would end their deportation agreement with the Home Office.

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If Virgin can do it, then other airlines can follow suit. The International Transport Workers Federation (the global federation of transport unions), made a statement in October last year highlighting how deportations are incredibly distressing for airline staff.

They called on airlines to adopt policies refusing deportations to take place on their flights.

A global movement against commercial airline involvement in deportations is beginning. Qantas (an Australian airline) has been met with increased protests over its role in Australia’s draconian deportation regime.

Similarly, in the US, American, Frontier, Southwest and United airlines have refused to carry migrant children separated from their parents under new policies implemented by Trump due to fear it would damage organisational reputation as a result of being complicit in such cruel measures.

Between January and September 2017, at least 222 commercial flights worldwide carrying people being forcibly deported were stopped due to pilots’ concerns for the safety of passengers and crew.

The Home Office cannot be trusted – deportations are an inhumane and often unlawful part of an immigration system that has been shown again and again to be unjust. The tide is turning against deportations – British Airways and other commercial airlines must take a stand against them.

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