Air Italy, the airline that carried some 40 Iraqi refugees to Baghdad two weeks ago in the first mass deportation to southern Iraq from the UK since the US-UK invasion in 2003, has said it will not undertake any more deportation flights in the future. An email by Cesari Francesco, the company’s ground operation manager, sent to the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns, said: “I inform you that, in the future, we will refuse to operate air transport with asylum seekers or refugees.”
According to the Independent (24 October 2009), Air Italy’s decision to end its contract with the Home Office was taken at a board meeting immediately after the return of the Iraqis, claiming it was “a matter of conscience.” A statement by the company said, “The business sometimes must communicate with the consciousness, and this was the reason, conscience.”
Anti-deportation campaigners had circulated the company’s contact details and scores of protest letters were emailed and faxed. Italian activists had also vowed to target the company for deporting people to their possible death.
The Air Italy deportation flight to Baghdad had lead to a public outcry and caused the UK government a lot of embarrassment as 34 of the 44 deportees were not admitted by the Iraqi authorities at Baghdad airport and had to be flown back to the UK. A number of them have since gone on hunger strike demanding their immediate release. A Home Office statement at the time said they will “iron out” the difficulties they faced and “expect to carry out another flight.”
The 15th October flight is said to have cost some £250,000 and carried up to 100 immigration officers and private security guards on board. Other private companies involved with the deportation included G4S, the UK Border Agency’s main contractor for detainee escort services, and it subcontractor WH Tours, the Crawley-based coach company that transports deportees from detention to the airport.
In protest, the International Federation of Iraqi Refugees and the Stop Deportation Network organised two public demonstrations in Parliament Square and outside the Home Office on 17th and 26th October respectively. A public forum against mass deportation flights has also been organised for 7th November. For more details, see http://stopdeportation.net.