Campaigning against aviation companies

01.Feb.01 - During the last two year, anti-deportation campaigners from Holland and Germany have started to shift their focus from individual anti-deportation actions to targeting the major national airline companies, which carry out the majority of deportations for the state. There are various reasons for this shift in campaigning focus:
The deportation industry is highly privatised and very expensive. Although the high cost of deporting refugees has made governments look for `cheap' solutions, they have not found ways to effectively deport people without relying on `deportation deals' with private aviation firms. Group deportations may be a way, but have also proven to be problematic. If governments have to organise the deportations themselves they have to reproduce parts of whole industrial sector. By using LH, KLM, BA, Tarom, Iberia they can use the infrastructures of a well established aviation industry: pilots, legal safeguards, air traffic regulations, landing rights etc.

Advantages of targeting airlines

1. Companies do not get elected, their main interest is profit. If something becomes unprofitable, they kick it. This means that pressure on companies who rely on a successful and trustworthy public image for their product, can have effect. They might conclude that it is not worth to continue with a business deal with the authorities, when it becomes too costly for them.

2. Past campaigning experience has shown that aviation companies can be forced to back down on the issue of deportation. In the past there are some examples from Belgium, Sabena, France Air Afrique and Switzerland Swiss Air. All these companies have started anew with deportations The effect of the campaigns was to slow down the deportation process and that the threat of another public campaign can stop individual deportations like with Amanj Gafor and start off discussion within companies like the pilots association of LH. When a company openly refuses to deport people there is space to direct the discussion on migration towards a more general one.

3. Aviation campaigning, in some ways, is a political consumers campaign. However, if you would compare it with the Brent Spar campaign of Greenpeace you can see that there is a big difference. The difference is not only that aviation campaigns are not `boycott campaigns, but that they create a more political based action which can even be individual. The slogan is not, not to buy, but to buy and act (prevent a deportation). Everybody can start the discussion with the company, in this way it is comparable with the action of Greenpeace against Shell. The acting is not invisible, at every desk and counter of the company the same discussion/action can be started.

4. Aviation campaigning is more comparable with the clean clothes campaign against Nike. It is an image polluting campaign. It takes the typical images, logos, colours and ideas of a company and slightly changes their contents. Only slightly: it should not be too offensive, but it should question the image as if something in this image is seriously flawed a flaw which should be pointed out to the consumer. The Lufthansa campaign for example changes the company's image of comfort and security and service into that of deportation.

5. With aviation campaigns, it is not only the individual company's role which is targeted. The fact that one company is under pressure works as an example to other companies. In the time of the apartheid in South Africa many companies were very anxious to put themselves in the picture, afraid as they were to be victim of action groups.

6. One very important aspect of the aviation campaign must be underlined. There are always people in the companies who are taking part in the deportation machinery, but who do not feel happy about it. By means of actions, they are supported, as well as representing important potential `allies'.

7. Campaigning against aviation companies is more than just harassment. It means, that we are not talking about single cases any more, but that the whole system of deportation is questioned. For this purpose, we attack the weakest point of the system: the private economy. We use their own means: public relations, design, new media, professional media work and knowledge. And this is, what they don't expect and what is difficult for them to deal with.

The noborder network is convinced, that other aviation companies understand that they could also be the target of a campaign. The activities against Lufthansa and KLM have often been published, also in economy magazines and newspapers. For sure other companies have noticed that. They will probably also notice the fact that activist groups are networking on a European level. If Lufthansa stops the deportation-class, this will surely have an impact on other companies and the deportation system as a whole. Although deportations won't be stopped completely, they will be made much more difficult.

[back to top]