The fight to stop the Rwanda plan goes on

The fight to stop the Rwanda plan goes on

The Rwanda safety bill has finally passed through the Parliament but the fight to stop the flights is far from over.

Tonight (April 22nd) the Rwanda Safety Bill passed its final hurdle to become law. After 5 rounds of parliamentary ping pong between the Houses of Commons and Lords the controversial legislation, introduced to sidestep a ruling of the Supreme Court, will now be sent to King Charles for Royal Assent.

For many of the politicians, community leaders, organisers and rights organisations who have fought against the plan since it’s announcement over two years ago, the latest development will be a huge blow.

On Monday morning Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced that “no ifs, no buts, flights will be going to Rwanda”. He told the press gathered inside No.10 Downing Street that a commercial charter flight had been acquired, an airfield put on stand-by and 500 security escorts hired.

There has been much speculation about which airline is providing the plane. Back in 2022, just after the announcement of the plan, a campaign led by ex-torture survivors and refugee organisations forced many airlines to rule themselves out of participating in the scheme. One of the organisations at the centre of this campaign was Freedom from Torture.

Agustina Oliveri, Digital Campaigns Manager at Freedom from Torture told Huck, “In 2022, we effectively campaigned to push the issue of reputational damage onto airlines who could potentially carry out forced flights to Rwanda. In doing so, and with the help of over a hundred thousand caring people, four major airlines ruled themselves out of the cruel scheme.”

The campaign, dubbed “Stop the Flights” saw thousands of emails, phone calls and social media comments sent to airlines asking them not to be involved. Over 20,000 people emailed Real Madrid and Barcelona football clubs asking them to stop supporting Privilege Style (the company who provided the plane for the abortive flight in June 2022), whilst survivors of torture stormed the Privilege Style offices in Mallorca and the biggest airline conference in Amsterdam.

By Autumn four out of the main six airlines used by the Government for deportations ruled themselves out, including Privilege Style.

As Rwanda plan has ramped up over the last few months the campaign has returned, with Stop the Flights 2.0 already securing confirmation from Titan airways that they will not be involved in the scheme. Titan had previously provided aircraft for deportation charter flights including a March 2017 flight to Ghana and Nigeria that was targeted by protestors at Stansted airport.

This time around the organisation have concentrated their efforts on AirTanker, who they believe are the airline that have been enlisted by the government to carry out the flights to Rwanda. Huck reached out to the company, who have conspicuously taken contact details off of their website, via email and phone for comment or confirmation and had not received a reply at the time of publication.

The airline has contracts with the Ministry of Defence and the RAF.

The campaign to ask them to confirm they will not participate in the Rwanda scheme has seen over 30,000 emails sent to the airline’s CEO. Campaign attempts to reach the airline via phone, email and in person have proven unsuccessful.

Following the completion of the passage of the Rwanda Safety Bill through Parliament, the stopping of airlines co-operating with the scheme remains one of the last weapons activists and organisers have in thwarting the plan.

On the importance of doing so, Oliveri told Huck, “This Government’s Rwanda scheme flies in the face of international law, the UK Supreme Court and common human decency. It’s cruel, it’s wrong and it’s unworkable.

We know from the work we do in our therapy rooms everyday how terrified survivors of torture are, and we’ve seen first-hand the awful toll the Rwanda scheme has taken on people’s mental health. These are men, women and children who’ve fled the most unimaginable horrors and deserve our compassion and protection.

The Government has a responsibility to help survivors of torture and other refugees, not send them thousands of miles away on forced flights. We have to put an end to this Government’s cruel and unlawful ‘cash for humans’ deal with Rwanda once and for all. We will continue to come together to demand that no refugees are sent there, or anywhere else.”

When approached for comment earlier, the Home Office pointed Huck to the words of the Prime Minister at his press conference this morning.

Speaking to Huck, Kolbassia Haoussou, Director of Survivor Leadership and Influencing at Freedom from Torture, said: “We all deserve the chance to live a safe life, and to seek protection when we need it most. When I fled torture in my homeland, the UK granted me sanctuary and a chance to rebuild my life. But now, people like me could be sped onto planes to face an unsafe future in Rwanda, and denied the safety and security needed for their recovery.

“Survivors have been at the forefront of campaigns urging the Government to change direction. And we’re not going to stop now. I hope that people who think the UK should help those fleeing war and torture will support us and join the growing movement calling for an asylum system that is humane and compassionate. And treats people in a way we can be proud of.”

The fight to stop the flights continues. 

You can write to AirTanker asking them not to participate in the Rwanda scheme here.

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