[ 20. Dec 2000 ]

Licence to kill

It has happened again: another deportee has died in Europe
The deaths of Ageeb and Omafuma bring to six the tally of deaths in Europe during deportation since 1991 although there may well have been more ....


The death of the Sudanese asylum-seeker, Aamir Ageeb and the Nigerian, Marcus Omafuma, during deportations from Germany and Austria in May were inevitable because European governments increasingly take the view that it is acceptable to chain, gag, sedate and place cushions over the faces of deportees, and that death or serious injury is the price that must be paid to execute tough deportation policies.

The killing of Semira Adamu, during deportation to Togo in September 1998, by police officers who smothered her face with a cushion, shamed Belgian interior minister, Louis Tobback, into resigning. It remains to be seen whether the German and Austrian Social Democrat interior ministers can ride the story of protest following the death of Ageeb (bound head and foot and forced to wear a motorbike helmet on a Frankfurt to Cairo flight) and of Omafuma (bundled on board a Balkan-Air flight from Vienna to Sofia in chains and with his mouth sealed with gummed tape). The German interior minister announced an investigation, but government sources have already began to put the blame on Ageeb for the "heavy resistance" he put up. The same explanations are forthcoming from the Austrian interior ministry which blame Omafuma"s death on his "heavy resistance" and claim that he had made so much noise that cabin staff insisted he be silenced or they would not take him. Viennese airport staff deny that Omafuma was violent. But the interior minister has made it clear that he had no intention of resigning - and according to opinion polls he has 88 per cent of the country behind him.

The deaths of Ageeb and Omafuma bring to six the tally of deaths in Europe during deportation (see table) since 1991 although there may well have been more*). But what justice have the bereaved families of Semira Adamu, Kola Bankole, Joy Gardner, Arumugam Kanapathipilla, Omafuma and Ageeb received?

Police killers must be charged

Omafuma is the fifth recorded death in Europe during deportation (see table) since 1991 (although there may well have been more*). But what justice have the bereaved families of Semira Adamu, Kola Bankole, Joy Gardner, Arumugam Kanapathipillai and Omafuma received? To date, not one single member of the deportation police has been successfully prosecuted for these killings, not even for the lesser offence of manslaughter. In the UK, where an inquest into the death of Joy Gardner has yet to take place after six years, lawyers acting for her son, who was five when he watched his mother being bound and gagged with 13 feet of tape by a special deportation squad, have launched a civil action for the psychological damage caused by her death. Omafuma"s case bears remarkable similarities to that of the Tamil asylum-seeker, Arumugam Kanapathipillai whose death in France in 1991 was subsequently hushed up. Like Omafuma, Kanapathipillai died from asphyxiation after being bundled on to a flight for Colombo gagged and wrapped in a blanket. Eight years later, the case against the police killers of Kanapathipillai has still to come to court.

Although the Austrian interior ministry have promised a thorough investigation into Omafuma"s death, nobody is counting on it for justice. Already, it has undermined its own investigation by putting out stories suggesting that Omafuma bit the three detectives who deported him (although there is no mention of this in the detectives" original testimonies). And the officers have not even been suspended while the investigation is carried out. Meanwhile, in Belgium, anti-racists have been waiting for over six months for the results of the judicial investigation into Semira Adamu"s death and details of action against the two gendarmes involved.

Training - no solution

Instead of calling an immediate halt to the practice of violent deportations, European governments are suggesting that all that is needed is better training, as though the efficient application of state violence was the answer. The Austrian interior ministry has announced that in future, the better-equipped anti-terrorist and riot police, WEGA (a huge proportion of whose membership support the extreme-Right Freedom Party) will be used to carry out deportations.

Belgian anti-deportation activists are particularly critical of a philosophy professor who has agreed to preside over a state Committee to define when the use of force is justified and to advise on training the police in deportation techniques. But the cooption of academics into state committees on asylum and deportation is not new. Recently, Heleen Dupuis, a professor of ethics at Leiden University, came out with a whole diatribe against asylum-seekers and called for the immediate closure of all Holland"s borders so as to protect the public from abusive claims from "people who arrive into the country in Boeings and who are not in genuine need". In 1993, Dupuis was a member of an advisory Committee on deportations, formed after a Romanian asylum-seeker suffered brain damage when his mouth was sealed with tape during a deportation attempt.

At least, in the UK, immigration officers are resisting encorporation into the deportation process. The UK immigration officers" union, the ISU, has made it clear that its members want no part in government proposals to train them in restraint techniques and the use of CS gas to enable them to carry out arrests and even deportations. Campaign priorities Campaigners in Austria, who have demonstrated in their thousands on the streets and occupied the Social Democrats" headquarters, have announced a permanent vigil outside the Austrian home office until Schlögl resigns. As a result the government has announced a temporary halt on all deportations. But the pressure has to be sustained. After the death of Semira Adamu, the Belgian government placed a two-month moratorium on all deportations. One month later, deportation police came for a 20-year-old pregnant Rwandan refugee. Their deportation attempt failed. But the woman miscarried.

Austrian airlines are the campaigners" next target. Pressure on airlines has been mounting across Europe, ever since the Dutch Autonoom Centre"s occupation of Martinair in 1996 led the company to stop group deportations to Zaire and the Dominican Republic. Similar protests in France led Air Afrique and Air France to announce a total embargo on deportations to Mali. In October, in an unprecedented show of solidarity, around 1,000 airport staff at Brussels national airport joined members of the Collectif Contre les Expulsions in a minute"s silence in memory of Semira Adamu. Dutch anti-racists have now switched their attention to the Royal Dutch Airlines (KLM) which carry out nearly 2,000 deportations each year from Amsterdam"s Schiphol airport. To date KLM has reacted arrogantly to the Autonoom Centre"s protests, arguing that as a business, its priorities are dictated by economic reality. KLM may have cause to regret its arrogance. At the annual Tourist Fair in Utrecht, the Autonoom Centre caused it maximum embarrassment by exposing this side of its business. Some protesters, dressed in the uniforms of KLM pilots, managed to persuade the press and public that they were KLM employees outraged by KLM"s collusion with deportations.

The solution Belgium is adopting, which may be copied by other states, is to stop using public airlines in favour of military or private jets. If this is the shape of things to come, then who will know when violence and death occurs? And where will we direct our protests next?

Deaths during deportation

September 1998 Belgium Semira Adamu, 20, Nigerian, forced on to plane to Togo, dies of brain haemorrhage caused by asphyxiation after pillow placed over her face.
August 1994 Germany Kola Bankole, Nigerian, dies at Frankfurt airport after being injected with a large dose of sedatives
October 1993 United Kingdom Joy Gardner, Jamaican, 40, dies in hospital three weeks after being manacled and gagged by deportation squad
1991 France Arumugam Kanapathipillai, 33, Tamil, dies from asphyxiation after being gagged and wrapped in a blanket on a Paris to Colombo flight

June issue of CARF (no. 50) CARF, Campaign Against Racism and Fascism