Immigration

Australian airlines under pressure to stop asylum seekers deportations

A Qantas aircraft (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts) Source: AAP

Australian airlines are under pressure to stop taking part in the deportation of asylum seekers, after companies in the US and Britain made such a commitment.

Australian airlines are facing increasing pressure to defy orders from the federal government to forcibly deport unsuccessful asylum seekers.

Refugee groups released an open letter penned by prominent Australians warning involvement in deportations could seriously damage the reputations of companies involved.

Protests outside airline offices in Sydney and Melbourne are also slated to take place on Thursday.

refugee immigrant
Immigrant children are being separated from their parents in the United States.
AAP

Brynn O'Brien, executive director of the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility, called on Qantas to commit to ending its involvement in the government's "toxic" refugee policies.

Ms O'Brien is concerned the fundamental human rights of people being deported cannot be guaranteed, putting Australia at risk of violating its international obligations.

"Business relationships that associate a company with the abuse of refugees and people seeking asylum constitute material legal, reputational and financial risk," Ms O'Brien said.

"For a company like Qantas, whose brand is so material to its value, it is extremely risky to take on contracts that expose its brand to association with a system that violates human rights."

Asked about asylum seekers who have committed major crimes, Ms O'Brien argued the government had various ways of removing people from the country, including charter flights.

She argued the business risk for private companies involved was simply too high.

Ms O'Brien is due to meet with Qantas executives on Friday to discuss the issue, but the airline has already indicated it is unlikely to shift its position.

Refugees welcome sign
Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility claims airlines are involved in "toxic" government refugee policies.
Getty Images

"We appreciate that this is a sensitive issue. The government and courts are best placed to make decisions on complex immigration matters, not airlines," a Qantas spokesman said in a statement.

If the national carrier digs its heels in, Ms O'Brien intends to enlist help from the airline's shareholders to launch formal action at the company's annual general meeting.

The ACCR will also be seeking a meeting with Virgin Australia.

The open letter, signed by businesswoman Janet Holmes a Court and former Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs, comes after several airlines in the US and Britain agreed to refuse deportation orders.

The simmering issue shot to prominence in recent weeks after footage of a woman disrupting a flight carrying an asylum seeker being deported from Sweden went viral online.

The separation of immigrant children from their parents in the United States has also shone light on the controversial practice.

Advocates are hopeful that heaping pressure on airlines will bear similar results to campaigns against detention contractor Transfield, which cut ties with Australia's offshore immigration centres after a backlash from investors.

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