Charter Flight number PVT 030 – out of sight out of mind

Photo from Channel 4 News: A young Tamil awaits his fate during the onslaught of 2009

As Channel 4 reports, just two days after its harrowing documentary ‘Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields’ at least 40 asylum seekers who were unsuccessful in their original claims – the majority of who are Tamil – are  today due to be shoved back on to a plane bound for Sri Lanka.

This is despite Amnesty International‘s observation ‘ that it is known that rejected asylum seekers have been detained and tortured’, and indeed the Home Office’s own report noting ongoing human rights violations.

Growth in charter flights

Charter flights tend to be used where it’s deemed impracticable to use ordinary flights. They are by no means novel. In fact they’ve been used in Europe since the 80’s.

The Institute for Race Relations notes that there has been a massive surge in their use in the past few years. A parliamentary answer revealed that  there were some sixty four or so flights in 2009 – many of these were joint charter flights with other EU countries. Campaigners are said to link this rise in to reluctance by airline companies to carry returnees back to vocal protests by those being removed and members of the travelling public. Of course costs, logistics, the growing importance of removal targets, and problems with countries re-documenting their nationals also play a significant role.


From the perspective of the Government, charter flights also have the advantage of being able to conceal what is frankly a deeply disturbing process. Across Europe deaths during the removal process on account of security and police violence occur every year. Of course the process itself is deeply troubling- it is not uncommon for mouths to be taped shut, people to be tied to their seats and restrained  with handcuffs- Germany and France actually use sedatives for the process.

In short, the net effect of the use of charter flights is to reduce accountability. There simply aren’t other passengers around to observe the behaviour of security officers or get in the way (or give evidence in future proceedings), and there’s no question of  the process being caught on a mobile phone and circulated through facebook and you tube in the same way as is often the case with policing these days. This is bound to impact on the way in which such removals are conducted.

Of course, the other fundamental problem is that the speed with which individuals are corralled into being placed on a charter flight also means that there’s no guarantee that their circumstances are properly considered. In short, this significantly increases the risk of death, torture, or other human rights abuses at the other end.

Human rights

International human rights law prohibits the collective expulsion of non nationals. In Europe  Article 4 of Protocol 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights states that the ‘collective expulsion of aliens is prohibited.’

The case of Conka v Belgium in the European Court of Human Rights confirmed for example that Article 4 could apply to four members of single a family except where ‘ such measures is taken on the basis of ‘a reasonable or objective examination’ of the case of each particular individual’.  In that case there had  in fact been some specific consideration of their individual circumstances.

Regrettably, however the UK refuses to ratify Article 4 Protocol 4, and in so doing, it limits its legal accountability for its charter flights. But of course accountability, and the radical language of human rights extend well beyond the court room. It’s important that we don’t lose sight of that.

About jcwi

Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants is a key campaigning voice in the field of immigration, asylum and nationality law and policy. It is completely independent from government funding, remaining entirely free from government influence. View all posts by jcwi

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