By Deirbhile Ní Bhranáin, Media and Development
A campaign led by SOAS Detainee Support (SDS) will be launching at the beginning of April to protest against the increased deportations carried out in the UK and assisted by airline company TUI.
TUI is primarily a holiday airline, their recognisable winking logo promising happy days in the sun. According to research conducted by Corporate Watch, TUI has also become the main airline carrying out deportation flights, in collaboration with the UK Home Office’s ‘Hostile Environment’ policy.
Hostile Environment is a set of government actions that aim to make life actively difficult for those in the UK that do not have documentation papers. In line with former Prime Minister Theresa May’s 2012 declaration to ‘create… a really hostile environment for illegal immigrants,’ policies have included cutting off access to the NHS, making it increasingly difficult to find rental housing, or even employment. Recent effects of this policy include the death of a Filipino immigrant due to Covid-19, as he was unwilling to go to the doctor due to fear of deportation.
Within this policy lies ‘Operation Sillath’, which was established in early summer of 2020 and thought to be a strategic governmental response to rising numbers of people crossing the Channel to the UK from France.
Although deportations have been decreasing in recent years, they still remain at the heart of the UK policy for dealing with illegal immigration. In 2019, over 7,000 people were deported, but this number increases when the 11,000 ‘voluntary’ departures are included, though many report being coerced due to threats or the impacts of the ‘Hostile Environment’ policies.
Deportations fell as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown, with over 900 people being released from detention centres. However, the last months of 2020 saw a large spike in deportation flights, with TUI carrying out all 9 flights in the month of November.
A spokesperson for the campaign commented that ‘as part of Operation Sillath, TUI has assisted the Home Office with deportation of recent arrivals to the UK via channel crossings. These deportations are set to continue.’
The widely publicised deportation flight from the UK to Jamaica on 2 December 2020, targeting many of the Windrush generation whose home has been the UK since childhood, garnered a great deal of public anger. A campaign against the flight included an open letter which called for the flight to be cancelled, and was signed by over 90 Black and Asian public figures. While the flight still went ahead, it sparked national conversation and directed attention towards airlines – including TUI – who are contracted to carry out deportations for the government.
The scope for refusing to carry out deportations seems relatively unexplored. Some pilots have refused to fly planes chartered for deportation flights. British Airways has responded to previous criticism regarding their involvement in deportation by stating that the company has no choice but to cooperate with the Home Office. However, Corporate Watch has determined that there is no legal precedent to take any action against an airline company for this reason.
Yet, there is a precedent for a pledge against deportations. June 2018, following pressure from campaigners, saw Virgin Airlines agree to cease their involvement with deportation flights.
“The month of action aims to call attention to ongoing deportations… and encourage customers to stop buying holidays until TUI have pledged to stop deportations from the UK.”
In the wake of increased deportations, the ‘month of action’ beginning at the start of April aims to call attention to the ongoing deportations carried out by TUI and another airline, Privilege Style. The campaign is being led by SDS, and is partly run by SOAS students. Each week of the campaign will focus on a different theme, calling attention to divergent aspects of this issue, but ultimately encouraging customers to stop buying holidays with TUI until they have pledged to stop participating in deportations from the UK.
A spokesperson for the campaign said: ‘Our demand of TUI, the tourism giant who has centred their brand on the image of ‘wholesome’ family holidays is this: stop your collaboration with the Home Office, stop tearing communities and families apart.’
Details and live updates from their campaign can be found at @sdetsup via Twitter.
Photo caption: TUI carried out all nine deportation flights that occurred in November 2020. (Credit: tomch)