UK government’s ‘airline of last resort’ pulls out of Rwanda deportation flights following public pressure

Privilege Style aircraft involved engaged in deportation flights.
Photo Credit: Harrison Rowe/AviationSource

LONDON – In breaking news, Spanish air operator Privilege Style, the airline hired by the UK government to remove refugees to Rwanda in June, has just pulled out of the controversial scheme following months of pressure from torture survivors, refugee organisations and members of the public. 

A failed first attempt

In June, a Privilege Style aircraft operating as the first flight carrying refugees to Rwanda was grounded following an 11th hour ruling by the European Court of Human Rights.

The airline has become known as the UK government’s ‘airline of last resort’ for their willingness to conduct deportation flights that other airlines refuse.

Two other charter airlines which previously conducted deportation flights for the UK government, Titan Airways and Airtanker, have already ruled themselves out of the scheme after being contacted by Freedom from Torture.

Privilege Style letter

In a letter to the charity Freedom from Torture, who led the campaign under the hashtag #StopTheFlights, Spanish airline Privilege Style stated: 

“To the attention of the Freedom From Torture association, Privilege Style, a Spanish charter airline based in Palma de Mallorca, hereby wishes to communicate the following:

  • That it will not operate flights to Rwanda in the future.
  • That it has never flown to Rwanda since the one flight scheduled for June 2022 (which is the reason for this controversy) was suspended.

Their statement followed an escalation in public protests against the airline by campaigners in recent weeks, including the disruption of an aviation industry expo in Amsterdam on October 5th by two UK-based torture survivors.

Further protests outside Privilege Style’s Mallorca headquarters were conducted by British and Spanish activists last weekend.

Last month, a detailed clinical review by the charity Medical Justice has found that many asylum seekers threatened with removal to Rwanda may have been tortured or trafficked into the UK. The charity was joined by the British Medical Association, Freedom from Torture, and other medical charities in calling on the Prime Minister to abandon the Rwanda policy. 

A survivor speaks out

Kolbassia Haoussou, a torture survivor from central Africa and Director of Survivor Empowerment at Freedom from Torture, said: “This is a victory for people power – for thousands up and down the country who took action and for the torture survivors who stood up against the UK government’s cruel ‘cash for humans’ Rwanda scheme.”

“When I fled torture and persecution in Central Africa, the UK gave me sanctuary and a chance to rebuild my life. It breaks my heart to see the government turning their back on people like me in their hour of need, and that private companies are profiting from their suffering.”

“With Privilege Style pulling out, the wheels are coming off the government’s dodgy Rwanda deal: whoever succeeds Liz Truss as Prime Minister should put an end to this inhumane plan once and for all.”

About Privilege Style

Privilege Style is a private Spanish airline which operates charter flights on behalf of other airlines, tour operators, sports teams and other VIP customers. According to the airline, its VIP customers include several Spanish companies and top Spanish football clubs, including Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Last weekend, fans of both clubs joined Freedom from Torture activists protesting outside the iconic Real Madrid-Barcelona match, holding banners reading “Don’t fly with Privilege Style while they profit from refugees’ pain”

Freedom from Torture statement

Sonya Sceats, Chief Executive at Freedom from Torture, said: “This government has demonised refugees to distract from their own mismanagement of the country, but today’s news shows that the blame game is finally catching up with them.

“This cruel policy has been rejected by everyone from football fans in Madrid to King Charles himself, now even airlines who profit from this scheme are pulling out.”

“While the legal battle against this policy continues, it is down to all of us to show whoever succeeds Liz Truss as Prime Minister that we will not stand for their anti-refugee agenda.”

The dream turns sour?

During her short-lived term in office as UK Home Secretary, Suella Braverman MP recently made headlines with the controversial statement that her “dream” and her “obsession” was to see Rwanda deportation flights occurring by Christmas.

The recent victory by refugee advocates, which has seen her government’s ‘airline of last resort’ withdraw its air services, will perhaps come as an unwelcome nightmare for Braverman. It certainly isn’t quite the dream she had hoped for.

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