TUI faces a day of action over its role in deportation flights

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Travel giant TUI actively runs government deportation flights from the UK. Now, it’s facing a day of action against its contribution to this hostile environment.

Supporting detainees

SOAS Detainee Support (SDS) is an abolitionist group that supports people the UK government wants to deport. It says on its website that it works:

in solidarity rather than charity, and try to meet people in detention on their own terms and without preconceived notions about their situation or desires.

Specifically, SDS visits people the UK government holds in detention centres. The group says it offers them:

emotional support and practical support that could include help with finding a solicitor or medical expert, bringing toiletries and other essential items, and campaigning alongside people in detention. We do not offer legal advice.

Now, SDS has turned its attention to one of the UK’s leading travel companies.

TUI: aiding the hostile environment?

TUI is one of the largest holiday firms in the UK and the world. Previously Thomson, in 2017 it rebranded itself. At the time it unveiled a new slogan:

Read on...

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We cross the ‘T’s, dot the ‘I’s and put ‘U’ in the middle

But TUI also puts deportees ‘in the middle’ of its operations. Because Corporate Watch accused it of being:

the main airline carrying out charter deportation flights for the UK Home Office. In November 2020 alone it conducted nine mass deportations to 19 destinations as part of Operation Sillath, and its deportation flights continue in 2021.

The Canary has documented some of the deportation flights that the government has run. These include deporting people who’ve lived in the UK for most of their lives to places like Jamaica. SDS claims that the firm has operated at least 21 deportation flights so far this year.

So, how much money does TUI make from deportation flights? This is difficult to know.

An undisclosed money-spinner

According to Corporate Watch, the government uses third party travel agent Carlson Wagonlit. It books the deportation flights for the government with companies like TUI. Carlson Wagonlit’s contract with the government is worth around £5.7m. TUI is possibly part of this system. But because the bookings are all made by and in the private sector, we don’t how much money companies like TUI make from deportation flights.

Of course, deportation flights are probably fairly good business for the likes of TUI. Corporate Watch noted that between November 2017 and October 2024:

The Home Office estimated… that it will spend £200 million on deportation tickets and charters

So, SDS is holding a national day of action against TUI’s role in the flights. On Saturday 28 August, it will be demonstrating outside TUI branches across England:

SDS Day of Action against TUI

It has also written an open letter to TUI. You can read and sign it here. SDS says it wants the firm:

to act in the interests of justice, and discontinue your collaboration with the UK Home Office. Stop upholding this system. Stop the planes.

But deportation flights are not the only controversy surrounding TUI.

TUI: ignoring human rights abuses?

The campaign group Boycott Turkey noted how TUI operates in Turkey. It said that:

TUI profits greatly if tourism numbers to Turkey increase.

The issue here is the Turkish government’s human rights record. As The Canary‘s Eliza Egret documented, it commits numerous ongoing abuses of people’s rights. These include it:

  • Continuing its bombing in Syria, Libya, and Iraqi Kurdistan.
  • Imprisoning tens of thousands of people for political reasons.
  • “Terrorising” Kurdish women, including elected politicians.
  • Committing alleged “genocide” against the Kurdish people.

So, Boycott Turkey is calling for protests outside TUI branches, because it continues to operate in the country.

Corporate Watch also said TUI has been:

pressuring hotels in the Canary Islands to stop hosting migrants arriving on wooden boats, fearing it would damage the islands’ image in the eyes of TUI customers.

TUI says… nothing

The Canary asked TUI for comment. But a spokesperson said that they were “unable to comment” on the situation.

An unnecessary arrangement

Of course, TUI doesn’t have to do any of this. Even Richard Branson’s Virgin Airlines has refused to run these “involuntary” deportation flights.

As long as TUI continues to assist the UK government’s hostile environment, people need to hold it to account. If you can, attend a demo on Saturday 28 August. And maybe the public can force TUI to change its position on these toxic deportation flights.

Featured image via TUI – YouTube

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