Government’s ‘last resort’ airline pulls out of Rwanda scheme

21 October 2022, 13:48

Protesters against the controversial decision to deport refugees to Rwanda
Protesters against the controversial decision to deport refugees to Rwanda. Picture: Alamy
Charlotte Lynch

By Charlotte Lynch

The airline the government planned to use for deportation flights to Rwanda has pulled out of the controversial scheme.

Privilege Style has now refused to fly refugees to the East African country after pressure from charities campaigning against the policy.

The airline, which has become known as the government’s ‘airline of last resort’, agreed to fly migrants to Rwanda in June, but the flight was cancelled minutes before take-off following legal interventions from the European Court of Human Rights.

Boeing 767 at Boscombe Down, Wiltshire, in June when it was due to take seven asylum seekers to Rwanda
Boeing 767 at Boscombe Down, Wiltshire, in June when it was due to take seven asylum seekers to Rwanda. Picture: Getty

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In a letter to the charity Freedom from Torture, the Spanish airline said: “To the attention of the Freedom From Torture association, Privilege Style, a Spanish charter airline based in Palma de Mallorca, hereby wishes to communicate the following:

  • That it will not operate flights to Rwanda in the future.
  • That it has never flown to Rwanda since the one flight scheduled for June 2022 (which is the reason for this controversy)  was suspended.

A Boeing 767 plane owned by Privilege Style spent around 12 hours on the tarmac on the 14th June as the government battled to get refugees on the plane, bound for Rwanda.

But it was cancelled after a legal intervention from the European Court of Human Rights scrapped the removal orders for all seven people due on the plane.

Last month a review by the charity Medical Justice found many asylum seekers with removal orders to Rwanda may have been tortured or trafficked to the UK.

Their statement followed an escalation in public protests against the airline by campaigners in recent weeks, including protests outside Privilege Style’s Mallorca headquarters by British and Spanish activists last weekend.

Privilege Style is a private Spanish airline which operates charter flights on behalf of other airlines, tour operators, sports teams and other VIP customers. According to the airline, its VIP customers include several Spanish companies and top Spanish football clubs, including Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Last weekend, protestors gathered at the Real Madrid-Barcelona match, holding banners reading “Don’t fly with Privilege Style while they profit from refugees’ pain”.

Sonya Sceats, Chief Executive at Freedom from Torture, said: “This government has demonised refugees to distract from their own mismanagement of the country, but today’s news shows that the blame game is finally catching up with them.

“This cruel policy has been rejected by everyone from football fans in Madrid to King Charles himself, now even airlines who profit from this scheme are pulling out. While the legal battle against this policy continues, it is down to all of us to show whoever succeeds Liz Truss as Prime Minister that we will not stand for their anti-refugee agenda.”

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