Following the protest, XL withdrew from a £1.5 million contract to carry out deportation flights on behalf of the Home Office. The airline expressed their "sympathy for all dispossessed persons in the world" and claimed they "did not understand the political dimensions involved" in such charter flights. The same managers had told the protesters they were "entitled" to carry out their business and "did not care" about the people they were carrying.
Mr. Thompson, who works with many refugee groups in Manchester, including the Congo Support Project, said:
"I know many Congolese refugees and have heard some of their terrible stories. If you know what's really going on, you can't just do nothing. Inaction is not an excuse. We have a responsibility to defend these vulnerable people and expose the businesses profiteering from their suffering."
Innocent Empi, from the Congo Support Project in Manchester, said:
"Many of the people deported in February ended up in detention and were reportedly tortured by the DRC authorities. Many have since fled the country again, while some are still in detention and others in hiding, unable to escape and seek a normal and safe life."
1. The hearing will take place at Horsham Court, West Sussex, on Thursday, January 10th, from 9:30, and will continue on Friday.
2. XL Airways is a trading name for XL Airways UK Limited, which is owned by XL Leisure Group, the third largest tour operating group in the UK. Following a major re-brand in November 2006, the airline's name was changed from Excel Airways to XL. With a UK Civil Aviation Authority Type A operating licence, which permits it to carry passengers, cargo and mail on aircraft with 20 or more seats, the company provides short-haul and long-haul services to over 50 destinations in the Mediterranean, Europe, Africa and North America from 12 airports in the UK. XL Airways was chosen the "best charter airline in the world" for 2004 and 2005.
3. XL Airways were the owners of the plane that forcibly removed 21 children and 17 adults to DR Congo on 26 February, 2007. The charter flight was then dubbed Operation Castor. A Kinshasa human rights observer, currently in the UK, is said to have evidence that these people have been subjected to "severe human rights abuses" since their return to DRC.
4. A Country Guidance Tribunal hearing regarding DRC asylum seekers facing mass deportation (Appeal No. AA/04958/2006) was due to be heard on September 17th and was intended to give guidance to Immigration Judges in assessing asylum claims by DRC nationals. An Early Day Motion 1729, signed by 53 MPs, and a High Court decision on 24 May 2007 (Ref: CO/8351/2006) both expressed concern that an asylum seeker should not be returned to the Democratic Republic of Congo whilst the tribunal is still considering the evidence.
5. Following the deportation, a group of protesters did a banner-drop at XL's offices in Crawley on 23 February, coinciding with other protests across the country, called by the Congo Support Project and supported by many groups and campaigns.
6. Under a Freedom of Information Act request lodged by the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns (NCADC) last June, the Information Commissioner revealed that the total Home Office expenditure to deport persons from the UK, via charter flights, with XL Airways for the year 2005-06 was £1,542,826.96. On 11 July, 2007, NCACD lodged another FoIA request asking for further details to the information released on 18 June regarding XL. The Home Office declined from answering, saying they "do hold the further information you seek but it is not held by the Border and Immigration Agency in the format that you have requested." They did confirm, however, that "all flights with XL Airways were charter flights."
7. Between February 2006 and June 2007, there were over 100 charter flights to Afghanistan, Eastern Europe, Iraqi Kurdistan, DR Congo and Vietnam, removing over 2,300 refused asylum seekers from the UK.
8. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is one of the deadliest places in the world. Since 1998, over 4 million lives have been lost and, although the war is officially over, death continues at a rate of 1,200 a week. Extra-judicial execution of civilians, rape and torture are common. Recruitment of 'child soldiers' continues unabated. The United Nations peacekeeping mission in DRC recently reported that the human rights situation in the country "continues to deteriorate", as the army and police "perpetrate acts of violence against civilians and the number of reported rapes surges". A monthly assessment of the human rights situation in the DRC released by the UN Mission, known as MONUC, stated that there have been numerous cases in which Congolese soldiers and police have summarily executed and raped civilians, in some cases with apparent impunity. Ironically, just a month before February's deportations, the then Home Secretary John Reid brought in a number of people from DRC under the Gateway Protection Programme (the official name given to the UK's resettlement programme) and allowed them to settle in various parts of the UK with refugee status.