UK: Protests at forced deportations

In July, one British Airways (BA) aircraft was forced to abandon take-off from Heathrow and another BA flight departing from Gatwick to Munich was picketed at the check-in by anti-
deportation activists. After years of targeting the Home Office and local MP's, opposition to Britain's asylum and immigration policy has broadened to include aviation companies, similar to the campaigns against Lufthansa in Germany (see this issue), KLM in the Netherlands and Sabena in Belgium. British Airways however, seems to have been taken by surprise and refuses to comment on the issue of forced deportations.

The first action was organised by the anti-prison group CAGE, which had made contact with the deportee during their protest against Harmondsworth detention centre. They started talking to Salim Rambo a 23-year-old asylum-seeker from the Democratic Republic of Congo, who was looking for a lawyer to appeal his deportation. The group tried to find him legal representation, but due to the bleak track record of trying to protect people by legal means, decided to stop the deportation by use of direct action. After passengers refused to take their seats in protest of the forced deportation, the flight had to be abandoned and Rambo, who had been in Britain for eight months and whose asylum claim had been rejected in Germany before, was taken off the plane.

The second incident was organised by friends of Amanj Gafor, a 34-year-old Kurdish asylum-seeker from Iraq, and the Bristol Defend Asylum Seekers Campaign. Activists lobbied the check-in queue for the flight to Munich. It turned out that Gafor was not on the plane, possibly because of suspected protests or due to the intervention of Valerie Davey, Labour MP for Bristol West. However, she was deported on the third attempt.

The legal situation

When questioned as to BA's stance on forced deportations and the legal situation in case of casualties or death, the BA press officer at Gatwick airport was unable to respond referring responsibility to the Home Office under the 1971 Immigration Act. When looking closely at the legal situation however, the picture becomes more complex.

Under the 1963 Tokyo Agreement, which regulates responsibilities aboard aircraft, it seems that airline companies are directly responsible for the ill-treatment of deportees by immigration officers. In case of the injury or even killing of a passenger at the hands of immigration or police officers, the legal responsibility under civil law depends on whose jurisdiction the officers were active in. If they support the pilot in the execution of his powers on board the aircraft, they are his assistants. According to labour law principles, in the last instance the legal responsibility in this case lies with the employer of the pilot, that is the airline company. If the accompanying officers are not authorised by the flight captain, they are legally responsible in person: the legal norms which guide the responsibility of the state for damage caused during sovereign actions do not apply, as there is no national jurisdiction. Making the pilot responsible for forceful measures taken on board was primarily introduced to guarantee safety on board aircraft. They alone bear any legal powers once the doors are shut and are thereby obliged to guarantee security on the aircraft. The accompanying police or immigration officers on the other hand have the same status as passengers, they are not authorised to take official action once they are on board. This situation has led to much controversy in Germany.

German airline companies as well as the pilot association Cockpit are trying to delegate the responsibility to the state. "The airline companies, or rather the captain, are relieved of their legal responsibilities because the deportation is taking place on order of the state, in which case the state is in the last instance responsible for the well being of the passenger, or deportee", says Georg Fongern, Cockpit s


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