Australian Airlines Should Help to Stop Forced Deportations – Rapper MIA

Rapper MIA has called for Australian airlines to stop assisting with the forced deportation of asylum seekers, amid a campaign for the industry to take a stand on human rights.

In recent weeks, at least 12 Sri Lankan asylum seekers have been deported from Australia, and at least one Iraqi national as well, who was deported despite a pending court date for an appeal.

The deportations are part of Australia’s harsh immigration policies relating to asylum seekers and refugees, particularly those who have arrived in the country by boat, and thousands are being detained in a network of facilities on Australia’s mainland as well as offshore.

“The stories of how children, women and men are treated when they seek asylum in Australia are horrifying,” MIA, whose real name is Mathangi Arulpragasam, told Guardian Australia.

“If the Australian government won’t treat refugees and asylum seekers with dignity and fairness, then it falls to the rest of us to make sure that they are the given the best chance to rebuild their life in peace.”

MIA is a UK-born artist and activist, who was raised in Sri Lanka and India with her mother and Tamil activist father, who helped found the Eelam Revolutionary Organisation of Students. MIA returned to England with her mother and siblings as refugees after the family was displaced.

She recently released a documentary, and has continued to advocate against the mistreatment and abuse of Sri Lankan Tamils, and refugees and migrants. She has now moved her sights to Australia’s frequent deportation of them.

“Deportation is not an option. In the case of Tamils in Sri Lanka, several organisations including the UN have outlined ongoing torture and intimidation of the community. Thousands of Tamils remain unaccounted for or forcibly disappeared in Sri Lanka.

“By refusing to participate in the forced deportation of fleeing asylum seekers, airlines have an opportunity to play an active role in protecting human rights.”

MIA’s voice adds to those of more than 60 people, representing business, human rights groups, unions and academia, who have signed a public statement calling for companies to respect human rights, and say that ignoring international law can damage a company’s reputation and risk its financial interests.

Qantas is now the subject of intense lobbying by unions, advocacy groups and the public, to follow the actions of some overseas airlines and boycott migrant deportations.

UK-based Virgin Atlantic said in June it would no longer assist the home office in deporting people classed as illegal immigrants.

Brynn O’Brien, executive director of the Australasian Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility (ACCSR), told Guardian Australia there was a business risk for airlines such as Qantas in accepting contracts from the government to fly out those being deported.

This included domestic legs of international flights and involuntary transfers between detention facilities.

“Movement between places of detention, we hear from refugees, legal representatives and advocates, is a tactic that’s routinely used to make things difficult for people in the detention system,” she said.

“Forcible transfer, whether on domestic or international flights, looks pretty similar – people accompanied by guards, often in handcuffs.”

The Sri Lankans were returned to their country via a charter flight, but the Iraqi man is believed to have been flown out on a commercial jet from Perth and eventually to Baghdad.

It’s not known which airline he was assigned to, as there were several flights leaving that night, but Qantas has pointed out that it does not fly to Middle East destinations.

Sarah Dale, principal solicitor, Refugee Advice and Casework Service (Racs), said the deportation of the Iraqi national despite a court date revealed that there were no legal protections in place to prevent removals, “and airlines are participating in the removal of someone who has not had their rights afforded”.

A last-minute and unexplained transfer from a Sydney detention centre to Perth has also been questioned by the family of another Iraqi man, 22, who took his life this month.

Regarding its position on the deportation of asylum seekers, a spokeswoman said Qantas understood it was a sensitive issue.

“Our position is that the federal government and the courts make decisions on complex immigration matters, not airlines.”

O’Brien said cooperation by airlines left them open to the risk of protests by the public – such as the one by Swedish student Elin Ersson in Gothenburg – and the problem of airline employees having to respond to them.

She said the ACCSR was not calling for airlines to end all contracts with the government – just those involving involuntary transfers and forced deportations.

“This is an issue for investors – we have a small shareholding in Qantas and approached them in our capacity as shareholders doing due diligence. They haven’t been forthcoming with information,” O’Brien said.

Keren Adams, the director of legal advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, said, “the argument we’re putting to investors is they need more information about what Qantas is actually doing so it can assess their risk management processes.

“The Australian government’s refugee policies have been internationally condemned as putting lives at risk.

“Businesses, including airlines, that actively facilitate and profit from this system are complicit in abuse and risk exposing themselves to serious reputational liability.”

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