Freedom from Torture wins award for ‘Stop the Flights’ campaign

A US ICE Air deportation flight.
US ICE Air deportation flight. Photo: US Immigration & Customs

Freedom from Torture, who campaigned to stop airlines participating in Rwanda deportation flights, has taken the Overall Award for Excellence at this year’s Charity Awards, the longest-running and most prestigious awards scheme in the charity sector.

As well as winning the top prize in the Campaigning & Advocacy category, Freedom from Torture was chosen as the Overall Winner by this year’s judges for its creative and successful campaign to stop airlines from flying refugees to Rwanda as part of the government’s new anti-refugee agenda.

The Stop the Flights campaign focused on the UK government’s plans to fly asylum seekers to Rwanda to process asylum claims.

Horrified by this announcement in April 2022 – especially as survivors of torture were among those being threatened with removal – Freedom from Torture formulated a campaign that specifically targeted the six airlines that were shortlisted for the flight contracts, transporting refugees to Rwanda.

The charity is fighting to preserve the right to seek asylum and for those seeking sanctuary in the UK to be given a fair hearing and treated with compassion.

The charity was also concerned that if the UK could ignore its obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention, other countries could try to follow suit and these hard-won human rights would be severely threatened, not just here but everywhere.


Freedom from Torture CEO statement

CEO Sonya Sceats, Chief Executive of Freedom from Torture, said: “Last night’s victory was a huge statement by the charity sector against this government’s cash-for-humans plan to fly refugees to Rwanda. Collectively they have stated clearly: not in our name.”

“Our survivor-led #StopTheFlights campaign successfully compelled 4 out the 6 airlines who were willing to profit from the pain of refugees to pull out of the scheme.”

“With the Rwanda plans likely to pass, it is absolutely imperative that we – as a caring nation – take action against what this government is doing”

“At Freedom from Torture, we see people every day who’ve fled torture by taking dangerous journeys to reach the UK. Instead of dealing with the real issues at hand, this government is continuing to double down on scapegoating people who have escaped persecution and torture.”

Stopping the Rwanda deportation flights

#StopTheFlights aimed to compel the airlines to rule themselves out of the deportation scheme by damaging their reputations locally and internationally.

The multi-channel strategy comprised digital and traditional media, petitions and email campaigns alongside headline-grabbing direct actions.

A concerted effort to bring humour and playfulness to the issue resulted in spoof websites and social media posts, the presentation of a ‘worst airline of the year’ award and the handing out of one-way tickets to Rwanda at the Conservative Party conference.

Torture survivors contributed directly to the design and implementation of the campaign, and many signed up for a campaign leadership programme launched by the charity, learning the components of organising and campaign strategy.

Freedom from Torture says it would have opposed the policy whichever country had been chosen as the destination. 

Within a few days of the campaign’s launch last summer, two of the six airlines withdrew from the scheme, and by mid-October, four of the six had ruled themselves out.

Freedom from Torture is continuing the campaign against Hi Fly and Iberojet but is certain that the campaign – which cost just £10,000 – has severely hampered the UK government’s ability to implement the Rwanda scheme.

Privilege Style aircraft involved engaged in deportation flights.
Above: The failed first Rwanda deportation flight. Photo Credit: Harrison Rowe/AviationSource

Judge’s observations

Charity Awards judge Ruth Davison praised the creativity and cost-effectiveness of the campaign, saying “This is what happens when you really embed a genuine commitment to lived experience throughout your organisation, as they have done for over a decade. “

“And even if they haven’t permanently stopped this policy, they have shifted the public debate – you can see it coming up again and again, the questioning of whether this is an OK way to behave as a nation, as a society.”

Judge Karin Woodley was impressed by the charity’s “masterstroke” tactic of embarrassing the government by shaming their private-sector partners, as well as its efforts to highlight that many of those being targeted for deportation flights were survivors of torture and not illegal immigrants.

“What’s at stake here is the legacy following the Holocaust. This is a StopTheFlights campaign – this is not specifically about Rwanda. It’s about any country this government uses to circumvent its obligations”~ Sonya Sceats – Freedom from Torture

By Len Varley - Assistant Editor 6 Min Read
6 Min Read
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