Ryanair CEO Will ‘Happily’ Offer Rwanda Deportation Flights

A Ryanair Boeing 737 with new Scimitar winglets.
Photo Credit: Ryanair

Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary has weighed in on the controversial UK government proposal to commence deportation flights to Rwanda. The outspoken chief of the major low-cost airline said he would ‘happily’ conduct the flights if he had available capacity.

In his recent interview with Bloomberg, O’Leary expressed Ryanair’s willingness to operate deportation flights to Rwanda for asylum seekers from the UK.

It’s however crucial to understand the context. He emphasized that this offer wasn’t based on any specific government request, stating that he had not been approached by the government. Rather, his willingness to participate stemmed from Ryanair’s business strategy.

During the winter season, the airline has spare aircraft capacity. O’Leary views deportation flights as another potential service, similar to how they would handle any other commercial opportunity.

The UK’s Rwanda Deportation Policy

The UK government recently implemented a policy to send asylum seekers to Rwanda for processing. This approach, according to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will deter boat arrivals and disrupt smuggling networks.

However, the policy has faced strong criticism from human rights groups and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

The UNHCR argues that the policy breaches international refugee conventions. They raise concerns about Rwanda’s capacity to handle asylum claims and the potential for human rights violations.

A view across a Ryanair 737 wing at sunset.
Bene Riobó, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Why is This Controversial?

The controversy surrounding O’Leary’s comments stems from several factors:

Ethical Concerns: Many people believe it’s unethical for an airline to profit from deportations. This is especially so when the destination country might not be a safe place for asylum seekers.

Humanitarian Considerations: Critics highlight the potential suffering of asylum seekers and the potential for ‘refoulment’. This is the act of returning people to a place where there are in clear personal peril.

Legality of the Policy: The legality of the UK’s Rwanda deportation policy itself has been challenged in the UK Supreme Court.

A Recent Warning to Airlines and Aviation Authorities

In a recent statement, UN experts emphasized that sending asylum seekers to Rwanda, or any country where they risk “refoulement” breaches international law.

The UN has subsequently reached out to both national and international regulatory bodies to discuss these concerns.

Notably, it warned that airlines and aviation authorities who participated in these removal flights may be deemed complicit in human rights violations.

A growing groundswell of public sentiment against such flights has seen commercial airlines distance themselves from the controversy.

Photo Credit: Ryanair

What Lies Ahead?

Whether Ryanair will actually act further on Mr O’Leary’s stated openness to conduct deportation flights remains to be seen.

The UK government hasn’t approached them yet, and whilst cloaked in secrecy, Prime Minister Sunak has intimated that a commercial charter operator is now in place.

The issue of deportation flights to Rwanda is complex, with strong arguments being made by both sides. Understanding O’Leary’s motivations is important, but so are the ethical and humanitarian concerns.

It is unclear whether Mr O’Leary’s comment signalled a serious willingness to participate, or was simply an off-the-cuff observation.

Either way, the notion of one ‘happily’ participating in such flights seems starkly incongruous with an air operation clearly fraught with human suffering and misery.

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By Len Varley - Assistant Editor 4 Min Read
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