28 December, 2007


Asylum Airlines

I kid you not. This doesn't seem to have got a lot of coverage. It was mentioned in passing on Radio 4 news the other day but the only print media reference I can find is in the Independent.

It transpires that an Austrian consortium is in the process of setting up Asylum Airlines, a company which will specialize in transporting failed asylum seekers back to their country of origin. The righteous folk at Indymedia are of course incensed -- to the point of making the sort of statement that would get a BNP official banged up for incitement.

I'm not sure what the fuss is about. Failed asylum seekers are invited to leave and are in some cases forcibly deported because their cases have been judged not to meet the criteria for asylum. They are no longer asylum seekers. They have failed to demonstrate that they deserve refugee status. They have no further business here. They are in the main would-be economic migrants who have tried to circumvent the immigration rules.

Of course such people should be deported if they will not leave voluntarily. Unfortunately, not all of them go quietly. They have little to lose and potentially much to gain by making as much trouble as possible, with the aim of wearing down the will of the authorities to the extent that it is easier to give in and let them stay. This leads to disruption at detention centres, at airports and on flights, to the extent that (as the deportees well know) airlines or their pilots will refuse to carry them. Eventually governments have to resort to chartering aeroplanes at huge expense.

I am not as unsympathetic as some readers might like to think. In an ideal world I would be happy to welcome every waif and stray who turns up on our shores, but ultimately it is numbers that are the showstopper. We cannot absorb every last African pauper, every last Fujianese, Sylheti or Mirpuri peasant who thinks the streets of London are paved with gold. And when it gets to the stage that entrepreneurs perceive a market opportunity in bulk FAS removal, that speaks more eloquently about the numbers and the seriousness of the problem than a hundred Daily Mail or Daily Express articles could achieve.

No, the only qualm I have about this development is that it is private-enterprise. To have profit-driven private enterprise running prisons and other activities involving forcible detention makes me uneasy. I have no problems with the principle, but I would prefer it to be operated by the state.

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