Frankfurt Airport shuts out asylum activists

From The Guardian, July 30, 2001

30.Jul.01 - Frankfurt airport, one of the busiest in continental Europe, closed its check-in hall yesterday to anyone without a ticket in an attempt to stop human rights activists disrupting flights by protesting against the deportation of asylum seekers.

Demonstrators, who have set up a summer camp in Kelsterbach, near the airport, had planned to gather inside the building for a peaceful protest involving speeches and music.

Airport management said they had succeeded in keeping the protest outside the building by setting up ticket controls at the entrance.

The protesters' wrath was directed the German airline Lufthansa, which is given the responsibility of carrying immigrants back to their countries of origin. The airline has a contract with the German government under which it takes home nearly 10,000 rejected asylum seekers a year. All are escorted by guards and some are restrained with handcuffs and helmets during flights.

Criticism of the practice has intensified since the deaths of several immigrants, including Aamir Ageeb, a Sudanese man who suffocated while being escorted by three police officers on a Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to Cairo in May 1999.

Der Spiegel magazine reports today that Mr Ageeb suffocated as a result of the force with which he was pinned down by police officers during take-off, according to an expert's report. The death had previously been blamed on a special helmet meant to protect his head and to prevent him from biting guards.

Lufthansa claimed it was merely carrying out its job, and had nothing to do with Germany's asylum policy. The company stressed that it is increasingly turning down immigrants who are bound, wearing helmets, or who attempt to resist deportation.

Around 1,000 people gathered at the weekend at the protest camp organised by the human rights group No Person is Illegal. It held a rally on Saturday in Frankfurt, which included a demonstration outside the Italian consulate in protest at police brutality at the G8 meeting in Genoa.

The Belgian national airline, Sabena, put an end to transporting deportees against their will following the death of a Nigerian on one of its flights three years ago. Swissair will no longer fly rejected asylum seekers wearing handcuffs after a Palestinian died last year.

And Austria's interior ministry outlawed the practice of binding the mouths of deportees after a Nigerian suffocated on a flight out of Vienna in the late 1990s.