When immigrants are deported, it might seem like they are detained and swiftly rendered off to exile. But the mechanics of deportation still involve real-life institutions, companies, and workers. Around the world, citizens, labor groups, and even businesses are realizing that the gears of border security don’t turn without their complicity. The tools of collective action are becoming vehicles for resistance, by putting brakes on the logistical chain of deportation.
One intrepid activist in Sweden recently protested a deportation on a Turkey-bound flight by taking a stand, literally. Elin Ersson, a 21-year-old social work student, refused to sit—a prerequisite for takeoff—because the Turkish Airlines flight was carrying an Afghan refugee to his deportation. “I’m not going to sit down until this person is off the plane,” she said with calm conviction, explaining that the Afghan man could be sent home to his death in a war zone. The standoff initially triggered a panic among the staff and passengers. But soon fellow travelers were rallying behind her, even defending her from a hostile passenger who tried to grab the phone she was streaming on. Within minutes the staff yielded, arranging to have the man removed from the flight. She later told The Guardian, “I felt supported by the people on the plane…. I knew that I couldn’t back down because it was my name that was on the ticket. I had to do what I could.”
In the UK last week, activists called for a halt to the scheduled deportations of two refugees, Beauty and EM, survivors of abuse and trafficking from South Africa and Nigeria, respectively. They were set to fly out on Kenya and British Airways, but activists said that their physical and psychological trauma had left them unfit to fly, and repatriation would put them at risk of human-rights violations. On social media, they also called for direct action if necessary: “If you know anybody travelling on these flights…ask them to complain and challenge. Flights can’t go if passengers don’t take their seats and pilots can refuse to fly if any passenger is distressed.”
London’s airports have for years been a ground zero for anti-deportation blockades, with activists locking themselves to a tripod at Stansted airport, and even physically gluing themselves to detention-center gates to block transfers of immigrants near Heathrow airport. Meanwhile similar direct actions—which could lead to risk of legal prosecution—have been undertaken in Australia, where a woman was indicted after disrupting the transfer of a detainee to a remote detention center, and Germany, where pilots refused to fly 222 planes carrying deportees from January to September last year.