Forced deportation stopped after Sydney airport action

A refrugee activist hands out leaflets at Sydney airport.

The planned forced deportation of Villawood detainee Wei Lin on December 19 was successfully stopped at Sydney apirport that day.

A professional athlete in China, Wei Lin has already faced persecution and harassment in China after exposing the use of performance-enhancing drugs in Chinese sport in the late 1990s.

Wei Lin, accompanied by four Serco guards, was handcuffed and masked, and driven to the back of the airport and onto the Air China plane on the afternoon of December 19.

Two guards sat either side of him on the plane. Wei pleaded to go to the toilet, and when they granted this, he addressed the passengers, saying: "I am a political asylum seeker, the Australian immigration department forced me to come the airport and board the aeroplane against my will."

Wei Lin lifted his hands to show the handcuffs, pointed to the mask on his face and said: "This was what the department has done to me — the Department of Immigration does not support human rights."

A few hours earlier, RAC activists handed out leaflets at the airport to passengers on Wei Lin's flight. The leaflets asked passengers to "stand up after you have boarded the plane and inform staff that you consider the flight unsafe until the asylum seeker is removed".

The leaflet implored passengers to make it "known to airport staff that you are uncomfortable with the deportation. Inform other passengers that the deportation is taking place and convene aaer discussion about what to do."

Eight activists leafleted and pleaded with passengers and crew to take action.

Back on the plane, Serco guards mocked Wei Lin's speech and tightened the mask. But the plane's captain announced: "Because of some passenger's problem having not been resolved, the aeroplane will go back to station point."

Another announcement followed, saying the immigration department was taking a representative off the airplane, and Wei Lin was escorted off. He was taken back to Villawood Detention Centre and is awaiting further legal assistance.

Forced deportations are very dangerous. There are many cases of guards killing asylum seekers through suffocation on planes. But there have also been cases in Europe of passengers and crew taking a stand and stopping deportations.

In Australia, refugee activists fear more deportations are scheduled during the Christmas break.

RAC had protested Wei Lin's proposed deportation outside the Department of Immigration on December 18, and the deportation of Hazara asylum seeker Gulistan Ehsani, who was taken from the Maribyrnong Immigration Detention Centre on December 16.

“We are again calling on the minister to halt attempts to deport Wei, and to halt all deportations to danger,” said spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition Ian Rintoul.

“We are also calling on the airlines to refuse to carry forced deportations. By co-operating with the government, airlines such as China Air become complicit in the government’s abuse of asylum seekers’ human rights.”

In Wei Lin's case, passenger, crew and activist power successfully staved off deportation. Upon leaving, still handcuffed and in a mask, Wei Lin gave a speech thanking the passengers, many of whom clapped.

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