Qantas, Virgin Pose 'Extraordinary' Risk To Brand By Deporting Refugees: Rights Groups
Rights groups are putting pressure on the airlines to refuse to deport refugees on behalf of the Australian government.
Qantas and Virgin Australia are being urged to stop transporting refugees back to their countries of origin on behalf of the Australian government.
Two groups -- with the backing of more than 60 leaders across law groups, unions, and universities -- are leaning on the airlines' corporate responsibility to "avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts."
Recently, the issue came to prominence after a Swedish student prevented a flight carrying an Afghan refugee from leaving.
Now, the Australian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR) and the Refugee Advice and Casework Service (RACS) are leaning heavily on Australia's major airlines to stop transporting refugees altogether.
"Our message to airlines is this: if you don't want to be part of these human rights abuses, you need to stand with us and no longer be a part of deportations," said Sarah Dale, principle solicitor at the RACS.
"Over the past 12 months we have seen an increase in people being returned to their home countries, which we would say is a violation of international legal standards, the classic example being Sri Lanka."
Just last month, a Tamil asylum seeker who had been in Australia six years was forcibly removed in the middle of the night after his protection claim was rejected.
Thileepan Gnaneswaran, who arrived by boat in 2012, was transported back to Sri Lanka in July this year and promptly arrested by authorities in Colombo.
He faces permanent separation from his wife and 10-month-old baby daughter, born in Australia, as his wife was granted asylum due to a "well-founded fear of persecution" and cannot return to Sri Lanka.
Both the ACCR and RACS are meeting with Qantas on Friday. Virgin Australia has so far declined a meeting.
Dale, who described our asylum seeker policy as "toxic", said Australia could no longer rely on its government alone to stand up for vulnerable people.
"Qantas has shown that they are leaders in preserving the rights of all," she said, referring to its role in the Marriage Equality debate.
"I absolutely hope that Qantas will reflect the opinion of the Australian people, which is that we need to protect those that ask for our protection."
Data around how often refugees and asylum seekers are transported via airlines is unavailable, but it's not just deportations; the Federal Government also uses airlines to transport people between detention centres and to serious medical appointments.
A spokesperson for Qantas told ten daily while they appreciated it was a "sensitive issue", the company's policy is that it's governments, not airlines, that are "best placed to make decisions on complex immigration matters."
Brynn O'Brien of the ACCR told ten daily that continuing to participate in an asylum seeker policy that's been roundly criticised by international human rights organisations poses an "extraordinary" risk to both airlines' brands.
"It's companies, not governments, that are best placed to make decisions on business risk," she said.
She pointed to the recent decision by Virgin Atlantic to no longer deport people on behalf of the UK Home Office, following steady campaigning from LGBT groups.
"Given the brand association, we think it would be unwise not to carry the brand values from Virgin Atlantic to Virgin Australia," she said.
"When passengers have to take their own actions and stand up to the fundamental rights of fellow passengers -- it's a pretty bad look for an airline that transports the public around every day."