Activists protest against Virgin in Crawley
21 September, 2007
Anti-deportation campaigners today 'paid a visit' to Virgin Holidays, the Branson owned tour operators based in Crawley town centre in protest at Virgin's involvement in forced deportations of rejected asylum seekers to unsafe countries. The Home Office regularly books seats on Virgin Atlantic flights to countries such as Nigeria to forcibly remove people from the UK. The action coincided with the Gatwick No Border Camp, a protest camp running between 20 and 23 September near Balcombe, West Sussex, as part of a campaign against a new immigration detention centre that is being built at Gatwick Airport.
Around 11am this morning, 12 protesters walked into the offices on Station Road, armed with a banner reading "Virgin destroys lives" and leaflets exposing "this hidden, shameful business" of the British airline, owned by English entrepreneur Richard Branson. One of the activists taking part in the action said: "Companies such as Virgin Atlantic are making huge profits while flying vulnerable people to death and torture. These 'asylum class' flights are disgraceful and should stop immediately."
Leaflets were handed out to the staff, who seemed quite receptive, particularly the cleaning staff. After about half an hour, some of the protesters were 'man-handled' by the security guards, who were none other than Group 4 Securicor employees. The multi-national corporation, G4S, is the main Home Office's contractor to run escort services from and to immigration detention centres.
Alphonsus Uche Okafor Mefor, whose deportation, scheduled for 1 March, 2006, on a Virgin Atlantic flight was cancelled following a nation-wide campaign, said: "Nigerian asylum seekers, especially Biafrans, undoubtedly face the risk of imprisonment, torture and even death if deported back to Nigeria. Virgin are profiteering from our misery and that should stop now."
Alphonsus was a member of the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and belongs to the African ethnic group Igbo. Both Igbos and MASSOB activists have been imprisoned and tortured by the Nigerian government. The Home Office itself admits that the Nigerian government takes a "tough stand" on MASSOB activities.
Earlier this month, Crawley-based charter airline XL Airways said they would stop operating all deportation flights on behalf of the Home Office following a successful campaign that was triggered by a XL charter flight that removed 21 children and 17 adults to the Democratic Republic of Congo on 26 February, 2007.
For further information, please contact:
The Gatwick Area No Border Camp press group
Tell: 078 0750 3282
Notes for editors:
1. Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd, usually referred to as Virgin Atlantic, is a British airline which is owned by Richard Branson's Virgin Group (51%) and Singapore Airlines (49%). It operates long-haul routes between the United Kingdom and North America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Australia from its main bases at London Heathrow and London Gatwick. The company holds a United Kingdom Civil Aviation Authority Type A Operating Licence, which permits it to carry passengers, cargo, and mail on aircraft with 20 or more seats. Virgin Atlantic carried 4.9 million passengers in 2006, placing them seventh amongst UK airlines by this measure.
2. The Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) is a movement with the aim of securing the resurgence of the defunct state of Biafra from Nigeria. With headquarters in Okwe, in the Okigwe district of Imo State, it is led by lawyer Ralph Uwazurike, who has been in detention in Nigeria for 25 moths now without conviction.
3. According to Home Office statistics, Nigeria was the top nationality with the highest number of asylum detainees (100) in the second quarter of 2007. It also ranked among the top 10 in terms of the number of asylum applications (160). In 2006, 790 Nigerian nationals claimed asylum in the UK but all were refused at the initial Home Office decision stage. A total of 690 were removed, while 50 were granted exceptional leave to remain. In total, 21,045 people left detention during 2006, of whom 12,545 were asylum seekers. 14,360 of those leaving detention were removed from the UK.
4. The Gatwick Area No Border Camp is taking place between 20 and 24 September, 2007, near the village of Balcombe, West Sussex, to try and stop a new detention centre that is being built at Gatwick Airport, with planned demonstrations in Crawley, Croydon and Gatwick. The protest camp, the first of its kind in the UK, is also be an opportunity to exchange ideas and experiences, with numerous workshops, plenaries and others activities. For further details, see www.noborders.org.uk.
The Gatwick No Border Camp press group