According to Vice UK, activists protesting British air carriers’ involvement in the involuntary deportation of LGBT asylum seekers crashed the annual Airlines UK Dinner, handing out sick bags labelled “deportation contracts make us sick” and briefly interrupting the ceremonies with chants of “no to deportations” and “Where is Alex Cruz?”
In recent months, protesters in the UK have been remarkably successful at shaming airlines for participating in government contracts to transport so-called “involuntary flyers.” Activists have staged actions on commercial flights, airport terminals and have now even targeted the British airline industry’s annual gala.
Anti-Deportation campaigners have won some hard fought victories by directly taking on the commercial aviation industry. Last summer, Virgin Atlantic announced it would no longer permit government officials to use the airline to involuntarily deport asylum seekers. Virgin’s decision came in the wake of a mounting controversy over the British government’s alleged deportation of lawful immigrants and the removal of homosexual and transgender asylum seekers who faced imminent danger back home.
“We’ve made the decision to end all involuntary deportations on our network, and have already informed the Home Office,” the airline said in a June 29 statement. “We believe this decision is in the best interest of our customers and people.”
Other U.K-based airlines, including British Airways have been much less willing to walk away from reportedly lucrative contracts with the Home Office, but organizers have steadily turned up the heat on the industry and staged a series of events to shine a spotlight on the practice. In March of 2017, protesters briefly halted operations at London Stansted Airport (STN) after physically locking themselves to an Africa-bound aircraft reportedly carrying a number of deportees.
Now, Vice UK reports that activists managed to crash and disrupt the Airlines UK Annual Dinner. The gala was attended by top airline executives, lawmakers, regulators and a group of incognito activists in dinner jackets. According to the magazine, the protesters briefly seized the microphone to deliver remarks about the human costs of assisting in the deportation of vulnerable LGBT asylum seekers (who could be in mortal danger soon after the flights returning them to their country of origin).
The uninvited guests are said to have handed out airsickness bags marked with the words, “Deportation contracts make us sick.” The group of about a dozen LGBT advocates chanted “no to deportations” and “no to turning airline cabin crew into border guards,” before eventually being ejected from the event at the Park Plaza Victoria Hotel.
The activists reportedly focused much of their attention at targeting British Airways CEO Alex Cruz, who was in attendance that night. Cruz has been historically dismissive of the notion that airlines should decline to participate in government sanctioned deportations. For a time, shouts of “Where is Alex Cruz?” echoed through the hall.
“We wanted to make sure [Cruz] received a barf bag because every time he’s been questioned on deportations he’s denied all responsibility for it and ignores his company’s complicity,” protest organizer Morten Thaysen told Vice’s Oscar Rickett. “British Airways sponsors Brighton Pride and promotes itself as a supporter of LGBTQ people globally, but at the same time, they make profits from deporting people, including LGBTQ people, to countries where they might face danger.”
The opening remarks at the 2019 Airlines UK Annual Dinner Gala made no mention of the earlier disruption. Instead, Airlines UK Chairman Jane Middleton focused her speech on the importance of “government and industry working together.”