Campaigners have criticised British Airways for sponsoring the UK’s biggest Pride celebration while co-operating with deportations, claiming the removals include people facing persecution for their sexuality.
Activist group Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants called on the airline to “stop being complicit” in working with the government to deport people, as the festivities at Brighton Pride began on Friday.
The open letter, published in The Guardian and signed by scores of MPs and public figures, claims the presence of companies at the event which “profit off deportations is an affront to the vision of freedom Pride represents”.
It said: “It is an added insult that many of those deported on British Airways are LGBTQIA+ people who should be marching with us at the parade but are instead brutally rounded up and ejected from the UK to face poverty, persecution and, in some cases, death.”
Signatories include shadow home secretary Dianne Abbott as well as MPs David Lammy and Lloyd Russell-Moyle, who represents Brighton Kemptown, the Green Party’s equalities spokeswoman Aimee Challenor and campaigners including actor Andrew Garfield.
More than 50,000 people have signed an online petition calling on BA to stop helping the Home Office deport people.
BA said it is bound by law to do so when asked by the government, but the airline is never told someone’s personal information, including their sexuality.
Campaign spokesman Sam Bjorn said: “We won’t stand by and let British Airways use their Pride sponsorship to polish their image while they are complicit in the Home Office’s cruel deportations.”
The calls reiterated those made to the airline in June after Virgin Atlantic announced “in the best interests of its customers and people” it would no longer offer seats to the Home Office to forcibly deport people from the UK deemed to be illegal immigrants.
The announcement came after a backlash over the Windrush scandal which saw at least 63 people wrongly deported, amid pressure from campaigners in the run-up to London Pride, which Virgin sponsored.
A BA spokeswoman said: “It is a legal requirement (under the Immigration Act 1971) for all airlines to deport people when asked to do so by the Home Office.
“Not fulfilling this obligation amounts to breaking the law. Airlines only have the right to refuse deportees on the basis that they feel there is a threat to the safety or security of the aircraft/its passengers or the individual.
“We are not given any personal information about the individual being deported, including their sexuality, or why they are being deported. The process we follow is a full risk assessment, with the Home Office, which considers the safety of the individual, our customers and crew on the flight.”
She said the company was proud to support this weekend’s Pride event, with staff taking part, and the airline had a “long and proud history” of supporting the LGBT+ community.
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “The UK is a world leader in its approach to handling asylum claims on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and has worked with leading charities on our dedicated caseworker guidance.
“No one who is found to be at risk of persecution on the grounds of sexual orientation and/or gender identity will be returned to their country of origin.
“However, where someone is found not to need international protection and has no other basis to remain in the UK, we do expect them to leave. We work in collaboration with airlines to ensure any facilitated voluntary or enforced removals are carried out effectively, efficiently and with the welfare of returnees and other passengers at the heart of the process.”