For a list of the locations of the companies profiting from deportations, see here.
Charter Deportation Flights: TITAN AIRWAYS
Titan Airways, which describes itself as “the UK’s most prestigious charter airline”, holds contracts with the Home Office to charter private deportation flights from the UK to Nigeria and Ghana every other month, commonly leaving Stansted airport in secret at around midnight, destination “N/A” as seen in the photo above tracking a deportation charter flight.
In choosing to take contracts with the Home Office, Titan Airways is complicit in forcibly removing people en masse from the UK against their will, as an active part of the UK’s deportation regime. The company profits from the violence and assault that takes place on board during the flight, and the bleak conditions that people face upon arrival in the receiving country. It is necessary for Titan Airways to understand that there is strong opposition to the racist immigration policies they facilitate through operating and profiting from these charter flights.
As it is difficult to practically resist deportation on board a charter flight, due to the lack of independent witnesses aboard and documented violence during flights carried out by “escorts”, it is important for members of the public to put pressure on companies to stop colluding with the Home Office. Whilst this requires mass mobilisation and energy, campaigns have been successful in the past – in 2007, XL Airways became the first airline to reject the cooperating with the Home Office, out of “sympathy for all dispossessed persons in the world”, after pressure from campaign groups.
In 2009, Air Italy ended its deportation contract with the Home Office, after pressure from campaigners and the general public. Cesari Francesco, Air Italy’s ground operation manager, said: “I inform you that, in the future, we will refuse to operate air transport with asylum seekers or refugees.” The decision was taken at a board meeting immediately after the company deported around 40 people to Iraq, the first mass deportation to southern Iraq from the UK since the US-UK invasion in 2003. Air Italy claimed that it was a “matter of conscience” that informed the decision. This shows how raising awareness about, and campaigning against, the brutality of charter flights – which regularly deport people with ongoing immigration cases, who cannot afford to pay the huge legal fees to regularise their stay, and who have children and partners in the UK – can force companies to abandon contracts with the Home Office.
People have used direct action to fight charter flight deportations; detainees have successfully collectively resisted being taken by guards from detention centres to coaches bound for the airport People acting outside of detention have used direct action to delay deportations, gluing themselves to the gates of detention centres and blocking coaches from leaving. Whilst charter flights are often still able to leave later that day or the next, delaying a deportation flight can buy extra time for people’s lawyers (if they have one) to legally challenge their deportation – showing just how tight the timing can be, as many people are deported before they are able to pursue all legal avenues to remaining in the UK, or while their case is still being decided in an out-of-hours court.
Commercial Deportation Flights: VIRGIN ATLANTIC AIRWAYS, EASYJET, RYANAIR, BRITISH AIRWAYS
Like charter flights, deportations via commercial flights can be extremely violent and have been fatal; most well known, in 2010 Jimmy Mubenga was killed by 3 G4S guards (Terrence Hughes, Colin Kaler & Stuart Tribelnig) on a commercial British Airways flight to Angola from London Heathrow. Passengers heard Jimmy cry out “I can’t breathe” as he was pinned down in his seat, despite already being handcuffed from behind with his seatbelt on. In defense, the G4S guards said that they had been restraining him to stop him hurting himself or other passengers on the plane. The official story provided by the Home Office and G4S was that Jimmy had simply been “taken ill” on the plane and died; it was only when passengers came forward with testimonies of what they saw that the truth came to light.
4 years later, and 1 year after an inquest jury found that Jimmy had been pushed down by the guards “in an unlawful manner” with the knowledge that “they would have caused Mr Mubenga harm”, all 3 guards were deemed not guilty of the murder. After they were acquitted, it was revealed that 65 extremely racist texts had been found on the mobile phone of two; the judge had ruled that this text and other racist material found in possession of the guards were inadmissible evidence.
Airline companies may often lose money if a flight is delayed, meaning that staff may turn a blind eye to violent treatment of a deportee – ignorance that led to deaths such as Jimmy Mubenga’s on board a British Airways flight.
Many flight companies justify their collusion in the UK’s deportation regime by making reference to the 1971 Immigration Act. The Act sets out that in the UK, the Secretary of State has the individual authority to order a deportation by a specific airline in certain cases. In practice though, this is usually resolved through a conversation than an official order. So, in reality, a company’s decision to carry out a deportation is more of a favour to the Home Office, rather than an order it is complied to follow – and the Act does not present the directive to deport as a blanket requirement for airlines to comply with.
If enough pressure is put on a flight company, they can make the decision to no longer participate in deportations (as seen in the examples of XL Airways & Air Italy above) – often realising that they are at risk of tarnishing their public brand-image and losing customers.
Whilst commercial flight companies often assert that they have “no choice” in carrying out deportations, it is well known that pilots have the discretionary power to take people off flights, and so it is possible to protest a deportation as a fellow passenger on board.