Engagement with the deportation machine?

During a Week of Action Against the Deportation Machine in June 2010, campaigners from the Stop Deportation network drew up a list of 'targets' in the UK that contained, alongside government immigration agencies and private airlines involved in deportations, private companies contracted by these to carry out the forcible deportation of migrants. Among these were WH Tours, a Crawley-based coach company contracted by G4S to transport deportees from detention centres to airports, and Carlson Wagonlit Travel, a travel agents contracted by the UK Border Agency to book seats on scheduled and chartered flights for immigration detainees due for deportation.

Campaigners had found out - through a casual news item in a tourism business publication and by tracing a phone number listed in a Home Office document instructing immigration officers on how to go about deporting people – that Carlson Wagonlit had won the multi-million contract in April 2010. The global booking agency, which specialises in business travel management, had been used by the UKBA to do this profitable, yet kept well secret, business since 2004. In the financial year 2004-5, the contract was worth almost £23million.

On contacting the company's executive vice president for UK and Ireland, Andrew Waller confirmed that his company does hold such a contract but declined to discuss any further details, claiming they were “prohibited” from doing so. He also promised to relay the activists' comments to his bosses and the UKBA. The confirmation, however, was enough reason for the activists to take their campaign against the company to the next stage.

On 8th June 2010, a group of anti-deportation activists paid the company a visit at its main office in Potters Bar, Hertfordshire, hoping to speak to the managers and employees about their “dirty business.” An online campaign against the company, called by the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns, had already started in the morning, so all office doors were locked and protesters were met with rude and abusive attitudes. Nonetheless, the activists presented the company with an award certificate, designed specially for the occasion, bearing the the title Deportation Profiteer of the Year.

They then went on to leaflet people working in the big office block, including Carlson Wagonlit's employees, during their lunch break. Some of these were, apparently, “shocked to discover that their company does not only deal with smiley business clients.” After about two hours, police arrived but protesters had run out of leaflets and were about to leave anyway.

Following the protest, activists from Stop Deportation contacted Carlson Wagonlit again, offering to present their arguments and evidence as to why the company's involvement with forcible deportations “is causing human suffering and breaching deportees human rights.” Despite his earlier claims that he would have been “happy to speak with you and listen to your concerns" had he been in the office when they visited, Mr Waller now “regretted” that he was “not able to discuss the details of any client with a third party,” and so “not able to enter into further correspondence or discussion with you, or accept your invitation for a meeting.”

Unfortunately Stop Deportations ceased to be very active in subsequent months and the campaign against Carlson Wagonlit has not developed any further. WH Tours saw a few more pickets by activists from Brighton and London No Borders but these did not seem to be consistent or militant enough to make a real impact on the company. Campaigns aimed at changing corporate practices require persistence and bloody-mindedness to succeed, lets hope in the future we can organise to effectively challeng the deportation machine.