Author: ROBIN DE PEYER
Virgin Atlantic has said it will no longer work with the Home Office to forcibly deport people from the UK it has deemed to be illegal immigrants.
The announcement on Friday comes after a backlash over the treatment of the Windrush generation, which saw at least 63 people potentially wrongly deported.
The airline would not elaborate as to why the decision was made not to give seats on its flights for forced deportations, but it also comes after pressure from LGBTQ campaigners.
In a statement, Virgin Atlantic said: “We’ve made the decision to end all involuntary deportations on our network, and have already informed the Home Office.
“We believe this decision is in the best interest of our customers and people.”
Activist group Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants said Virgin told it of the move in response to an impending open letter it said was signed by people including actor Andrew Garfield and Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas.
Sam Bjorn, a representative from the group, said Virgin’s role in deportations to countries where people had very little connection or where they risk persecution had been “devastating”.
“Not only did the airline unflinchingly put people’s lives in danger for many years – it also made their staff unwillingly complicit in the brutality of the UK’s hostile environment policy,” he said.
“The fact that the company has finally opted to break with this controversial practice testifies to a profound shift in public opinion on deportation since the emergence of the Windrush scandal.”
He called on British Airways, which has also worked with the Government on forced deportations, and Qatar Airways to follow Virgin’s lead.
BA and Qatar did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
A Home Office spokesman said: “We do not comment on operational matters.”
So far, the department has identified 63 people as having been possibly wrongly deported to the Caribbean as part of the Windrush scandal, which also saw people denied NHS treatment, housing and work despite having a right to be in the UK.
The Government’s “hostile environment” policy towards immigrants, championed by Theresa May when she was Home Secretary, has been blamed for the scandal.