Sentencing of the Stansted 15 at Chelmsford Crown Court in February 2019. (Kristian Buus/In Pictures via Getty Images Images)
As British Airways gears up for its 100th birthday on August 25, queer direct-action group Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants are calling on the airline to celebrate its centenary by ending deportation flights.
In response, LGSMigrants has put together its own 100 letters – all addressed to British Airways, all calling on the airline to stop deportations.
“These letters showcase other voices – including migrants, former BA staff, and BA customers – and demonstrate wide public support for stopping deportations,” LGSMigrants told PinkNews.
“Our campaign is not only supported by other activist groups, but by artists, politicians, BA staff and BA customers. The letters include some poems by Hannah Lowe and Andrew McMillan; drawings by Zita Holbourne and Feminist Fightback.”
Deportation system in the UK
The system of immigration detention and removal in the UK is one that activists and human-rights organisations are very critical of.
The UK is the only European country where migrants can be detained indefinitely, and the treatment of migrant women at immigration removal centre Yarl’s Wood has long been a cause for concern.
Every year, around 12,000 migrants are forcibly removed from the UK. Approximately 2,000 of those forcibly removed are put on planes privately chartered by the Home Office.
There were 80 such charter flights between October 2016 and May 2018.
In March 2017, the Stansted 15 stopped a Home Office deportation flight when they joined themselves together with pipes and foam to prevent the take-off of a plane bound for Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone.
Sixty deportees were onboard the flight, some of whom would have been wrongfully deported from the UK if it were not for the activists’ actions.
The issue came into sharper public focus again last year, when it was revealed in June 2018 that at least 83 people from the Windrush generation might have been wrongfully removed from the UK by the Home Office.
LGSM: It’s not just LGBT+ people who the Home Office deports
“Sometimes media stories about our actions focus on the deportation of LGBTQ+ people and we want to be clear that this injustice is one part of a wider pattern of unjust and brutal deportations,” LGSMigrants told PinkNews.
“Featuring letters from a range of different voices, including survivors of torture and staff members from BA, allows us to highlight some of the many arguments against deportation.”
British Airways has previously said that it carries out deportation flights to comply with UK law.
However, LGSMigrants point to the fact that other airlines have been able to end deportation flights with “little repercussion.”
“After pressure from LGSMigrants and others, Virgin Atlantic cancelled their contract for deportations with the Home Office last year. The Home Office has not taken any action against them. If Virgin, a much younger company, can make such a decision, so can BA,” LGSMigrants told PinkNews.
“A number of our letters have been written by people who were unaware of BA’s complicity in deportations until they learned about our campaign,” LGSMigrants added. “Their vows to never fly with BA again until they stop their deportation contract are extremely powerful.”
British Airways and the Home Office respond
A British Airways spokesperson told PinkNews in a statement: “We are in the same position as all other airlines. It is a legal requirement (Immigration Act 1971) for all airlines to deport people when asked to do so by the Home Office. Not fulfilling this obligation amounts to breaking the law.
“Airlines only have the right to refuse deportees on the basis that they feel there is a threat to the safety or security of the aircraft and its passengers.
“We are not given any personal information about the individual being deported, including their sexuality, or why they are being deported. The process we follow is a full risk assessment, with the Home Office, which considers the safety of the individual, our customers and crew on the flight.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The UK has a proud record of providing protection for asylum seekers fleeing persecution because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“Each case is considered on its individual merits and decisions on claims based on sexual orientation are reviewed by a second experienced caseworker as an additional safeguard.
“Individuals are only returned to their country of origin when the Home Office and courts deem it is safe to do so.