Shareholders urged to stop deportations of illegals on Air France

12th July 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, July 12, 2007 (AFP) - Air France says it wants to make "the sky the best place on earth," but unions at the airline say using its planes to deport illegal immigrants -- sometimes gagged or handcuffed -- damages its image and poses a security risk.

PARIS, July 12, 2007 (AFP) - Air France says it wants to make "the sky the best place on earth," but unions at the airline say using its planes to deport illegal immigrants -- sometimes gagged or handcuffed -- damages its image and poses a security risk.

Unions are calling for shareholders -- who meet Thursday in Paris for the airline's annual general meeting -- to demand a stop to these sometimes violent airborne expulsions.

The call comes amid promises by newly-elected President Nicolas Sarkozy, who as interior minister doubled the annual number of deportations to 25,000, to be tough on France's estimated 200,000 to 400,000 illegals.

The new minister of immigration and national identity, Brice Hortefeux, charged with implementing Sarkozy's policy of "chosen immigration," has predicted there will be about 25,000 expulsions again this year.

Air France unions in a statement urged shareholders to call for "an end to the use of the Air France-KLM group planes for deporting foreigners which damages the image of the company and the security of flights."

The motion, backed by several unions, was adopted by the company's central works committee on Tuesday. It was not signed by two of the main unions representing the 16,000 air personnel but one of them said the expulsions had caused a "malaise" among staff.

An Air France spokesman on Wednesday told AFP that the deportations were "carried out by the interior ministry" and that "it is not up to Air France to question such decisions taken in the framework of a state of law."

But Air France staff disagree.

"What can you say when a passenger tells you he's being sent back to his death?" asked Stephane Unzue, a steward and union activist. "We didn't join the company to do that."

Pilots and stewards say that the explusions are usually uneventful once the person being deported has agreed to leave France.

But "when a person is gagged and handcuffed, for us it's intolerable," said Eric Tahon, a long-haul pilot and member of the Alter trade union.

"If we need to evacuate -- which might have to be done in 90 seconds if the fuel tanks are full -- the person has to be able to move on his own," he said.

That is why pilots often refuse to let the deportee board the plane if he is opposed to his deportation. 

"But what can we do? We apply the law," asked Geoffroy Bouvet, a pilot and spokesman for AF-ALPA, the air personnel's main trade union.

But another pilot, who asked not to be named, said: "It is not the vocation of the company, nor of the pilot, to force these people to return (to their countries)." 

The deportee who has not agreed to his or her expulsion is placed at the back of the plane, accompanied by two police officers.

Sophie, a steward who asked for her surname not to be published, said she was shocked when on a Paris-Beijing flight when she witnessed a Chinese woman, who was "screaming a lot," being deported.

"The police officers had bent her over and put a gag in her mouth to stop her shouting. She fainted," she said.

"When you transport this type of passenger, often in handcuffs, a lot of passengers are shocked," said another steward, who also declined to be named for fear of being punished by his employer. 

Since last year an activist group called Education Without Borders Network (RESF), which campaigns for illegal migrants with children in French schools to be given residency rights, has been calling on passengers to show support for people being deported on their planes.

This had led to several incidents on planes in recent months, with several flights being cancelled.

One example was the botched expulsion on May 26 of a 50-year-old Malian man, Salif Kamate, who says he was beaten by police on board an Air France plane that was to fly to Bamako.

The flight ended up being cancelled just before take-off because of the incident.

Immigration Minister Hortefeux on Wednesday downplayed the situation, saying that there were problems only with 4.6 percent of the 6,000 airborne deporations carried out between January and May this year.

Sixty percent of these 6,000 explusions were carried out without a police escort, officials added.


Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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