British Airways claim to be proud to be the official airline and sponsor of EuroPride 2006. A full-page advertisement in the current Gay Times advertises their Chill Out Lounge in Leicester Square, and discounted tickets for pride-goers flying to London.
Yet less than three weeks ago, on 11th June, British Airways deported Elizabeth, a distraught and defenceless lesbian who had fled to the UK from Uganda, which is considered one of the most homophobic countries in the world. Returned to the very situation from which she escaped two years ago, and at risk of serious persecution on the grounds of her lesbianism, it is feared she is unlikely to survive.
Elizabeth lived as a lesbian secretly for many years in Uganda, in fear of the state sponsored persecution of homosexuals. One night she was abducted from her home and taken to a so-called "Safe House": an unofficial Ugandan prison where torture is regularly practised. After 5 months of being repeatedly raped, whipped and beaten, she managed to escape, and fled to the UK, where she claimed asylum.
Amazingly, an adjudicator at Manchester Immigration and Asylum Tribunal dismissed Elizabeth's asylum appeal, admitting the persecution of homosexuals in Uganda, but perversely ruling that women cannot be understood to be homosexual. He also failed to understand how Elizabeth could possibly be lesbian, as she has a child!
Despite support by her MP, David Heves, by Angela Eagle MP, by many close friends in the gay and lesbian community, and by the Elizabeth Must Stay campaign, an attempt was made to deport her on 2nd June, but was aborted after immigration "escorts" used excessive force, including two sets of handcuffs. A professional medical assessment last month confirmed that Elizabeth now has chronic physical and mental health problems. Yet even a call by Elizabeth's psychiatrist to BA, pleading on her behalf, failed to stop her deportation.
In August 2004, the notorious homophobe Baroness O'Cathain resigned as non-executive director of British Airways after the Stonewall "Boycott BA" campaign. In January 2005 a South African judge dismissed a lawsuit by a gay man after flight attendants had him arrested at Heathrow when he kissed his boyfriend on a flight, ruling that, because the incident had occurred in the air, British Airways is protected by the Warsaw Convention, (which limits damage claims by passengers on international flights to bodily injury or death).
British Airways claim to "maintain an active dialogue with ... local community representatives": but hung up on discovering that campaigners ringing on behalf of Elizabeth were not customers in possession of tickets. Evidently British Airways are motivated solely by sales and profits: not by any LGBT-friendly desire to promote equality!
All airlines, including British Airways, have a moral duty to challenge the Home Office, to ensure that it is in compliance with international human rights law, aviation law, and even its own corporate policies. The Nuremberg Trials established that "We were only following orders" is no defence! Many individual airline workers already recognise this and act accordingly. Sadly, this is not yet BA corporate policy. The National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns [NCADC] deal constantly with similar cases.
Willie Walsh, Chief Executive Officer, British Airways
Waterside, P.O. Box 365, Harmondsworth. UB7 0GB
Willie.Walsh@britishairways.com, Fax: 020-8759 4314
Liam Byrne, Minister for Nationality, Citizenship, & Immigration
Home Office, 3rd Floor, Peel Building, 2 Marsham Street, London. SW1P 4DF
firstname.lastname@example.org, Fax: 020-7219 2417