Should commercial airlines sell seats to allow the Government to forcibly return asylum seekers?
The issue’s been brewing since early last year – but it’s not one airlines themselves are particularly eager to discuss.
Take the case of Veneera Aliyeva.
Veneera settled so successfully in Swansea with her two children that when immigration officers came to take them away, the community campaigned for her.
The campaign continues although, as I write, the family had finally been released from a detention centre by the Home Office pending a possible judicial review. The threat of expulsion from the UK still loomed over them.
If they are forced to return to Azerbaijan they will do so on an airline in seats you or I’d use for our holidays.
Twice the family has been marked down for return, both times on British Midland Airways (bmi) flights from Heathrow.
When I contacted bmi to ask whether it would abandon these flights, it responded with classic meaningless PR.
“bmi is not at liberty to discuss the details of any of its passengers, under the terms of the Data Protection Act, and we do not wish to get drawn into a debate over Home Office policy. I suggest you contact the Home Office for further details of the case you describe.”
Veneera is a 40-year-old ethnic Armenian. Since a war between Azeris and Armenians in the early 1990s tensions have been high. More than 600,000 remain displaced from their homes, according to Amnesty International, despite a 1994 ceasefire.
Veneera is married to an Azeri and kept her own ethnicity secret until she was seen visiting her mother’s grave in an Armenian graveyard.
The harassment began and, according to Asylum Justice, she was beaten and raped.
Campaigners, then, are concerned for her safety if she is made to return.
So note how bmi publicly absolves itself of responsibility.
It says it can’t discuss the fact that Veneera is being flown back to all possible horrors because of the awful DPA – ie, to protect her privacy as a passenger.
Note also the swish of the bat which knocks the issue in the direction of the Home Office.
The airline – whose subsidiary bmi baby flies out of Cardiff International – should take responsibility for its actions. If it is proud to be carrying out government policy then why not say so?
Other airlines who make these flights have previously intimated that they have no choice but to do the Government’s bidding. But the Home Office says they can turn down these unwilling passengers.
In fact, earlier this year XL Airways said it would no longer take part in these flights out of “sympathy for all dispossessed persons in the world”.
Will we be a better country, or bmi a better company, if Veneera and her children are forced somewhere they do not want to go?
:: From Big Issue Cymru, December 27, 2007-January 6, 2008