Amplifying Voices

#StopTheFlights

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Members of Survivors Speak Out before addressing the airline industry convention in Amsterdam, calling for Privilege Style to rule themselves out of the scheme. Photographer: Jack Steadman, Oct 2022

Led by survivors of torture, the #StopTheFlights campaign persuaded Spanish airline Privilege Style to pull out of flying refugees to Rwanda

The Campaign

In April 2022, the UK Government announced it had signed a deal that would enable the removal of refugees from the UK to Rwanda. The deal would have huge negative implications for refugees, many of whom are survivors of torture.

Launched in May 2022, #StopTheFlights began targeting the airlines tasked by the Government to fly refugees to Rwanda, with torture survivors playing a key role in planning and implementing the campaign.

Through a combination of media, creative tactics such as spoof ads, digital mobilisation, and high-profile survivor-led actions, #StopTheFlights was a truly diverse and multichannel campaign. Torture survivors travelled to Privilege Style’s Mallorca headquarters and stormed the stage at a global aviation expo in Amsterdam. Activists protested outside the iconic football match between Real Madrid and Barcelona, Privilege Style’s two largest clients.

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Spoof ads exposing the airline’s refusal to rule themselves out

It is an honour to receive this recognition from SMK. Torture survivors and activists came together to tackle injustice, proving that people power works.”

Kolbassia Haoussou MBE, Director of Survivor Empowerment.

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Spoof ads exposing the airline’s refusal to rule themselves out

It is an honour to receive this recognition from SMK. Torture survivors and activists came together to tackle injustice, proving that people power works.”

Kolbassia Haoussou MBE, Director of Survivor Empowerment.

The Change

#StopTheFlights has played a key role in frustrating the Government’s efforts to remove refugees to Rwanda.

In a spectacular U-turn, Privilege Style publicly withdrew from the Rwanda scheme in mid-October, despite being preparing to conduct the first removal flight for UK Government earlier in the year (the flight was on the tarmac and grounded at the eleventh hour by a European court ruling). This came after months of pressure.

Privilege Style’s climbdown received widespread domestic and international coverage, including in the New York Times, the Guardian, and The Times. In addition, fear of reputational damage led three other airlines involved in deportations for the UK Government, Wamos, AirTanker, and Titan Airways, to rule themselves out of the Rwanda scheme.

As exemplified in a banner unveiled in Privilege Style’s headquarters by Kolbassia Haoussou MBE, torture survivor and Director of Survivor Empowerment at Freedom from Torture, #StopTheFlights has sent out a clear message: airlines willing to profit from the pain of refugees will undergo huge damage to their reputation.

The Future

There are now only two airlines that have not ruled themselves out of conducting flights for the UK Government: Hi Fly and Iberojet. The ongoing #StopTheFlights campaign will increase pressure on these airlines to make sure that the cruel cash-for-humans Rwanda scheme never sees lift off.

In February 2023, UCL informed the organisation they will incorporate the #StopTheFlights campaign into their ‘Doing Human Rights Work’ module, which is taught to students as part of their MA in Human Rights.
In addition, the campaign leadership programme is training a new cohort of campaigners; one torture survivor living in Glasgow has already organised his own demonstration.

Who else was involved?

Several organisations played a role in the success of the campaign. Research conducted by Corporate Watch and SOAS Detainee support was essential in identifying target airlines. The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants helped secure signatures from prominent celebrities for a highly publicised open letter condemning Privilege Style. One Strong Voice, a network of activists with lived experience of the UK asylum system, supported in the planning and implementation of many campaign activities. But most importantly, credit must go to the survivors who led the campaign, whether current clients or former clients involved with the Survivors Speak Out network*.

*Survivors Speak Out are a network of people who have survived torture. Hosted by Freedom from Torture, Survivors Speak Out, use their expert voices to raise awareness and advocate for change.