As the fantasitic news was revealed that Asylum seeker Kemi Ayinde and her family were not deported today, reports also began trickling out to her supporters of Virgin Nigeria’s distinctly strange about-face on the matter.
At the end of last week, and until late yesterday, Virgin Nigeria’s PR department were working overtime e-mailing Kemi’s supporters assuring them it would be in non-compliance with the UK government if it refused to take an asylum seeker out of the country when asked. In other words, they had no choice to deport this sick pregnant woman and her family.
By late Monday afternoon, however, Virgin Nigeria and Virgin Unite (the fluffy charitable face of Richard Branson’s empire) were claiming that not only were they not going to deport Kemi, Taiwa and Yasim, but they’d never intended to fly them out in the first place.
This is part of the letter that many of Kemi’s supporters received from Virgin Nigeria’s ‘Customer Relations Executive’ Stella Allen:
We empathize with Kemi Ayinde and the circumstances surrounding her migration to the United Kingdom, as recounted by your goodself, and her subsequent pending deportation there from. We have noted the suggestion proffered by your goodself regarding the manner in which VNA conducts itself in this matter and we believe same to be tantamount to non-cooperation with the Government which is inimical to the interests of all concerned parties.
We know of at least 10 variants of this e-mail, and she was sending these out until late afternoon on Monday 7th July. The language is a bit wordy, but the implication is clear. Virgin Nigeria would carry out the removal because it didn’t want to turn down the Home Office’s request.
Later that day people started to receive e-mails from Jodi Watson who is a ‘Business Mobilisation Manager’ at Virgin Unite (the ‘independent’ charitable arm of the Virgin Group). They all contained texts along these lines:
I just wanted to clarify that Kemi will not be deported tomorrow on a Virgin Nigeria flight. Virgin Nigeria was approached but refused to carry her both now or in the future. It seems the story was printed without consulting Virgin Unite or Virgin Nigeria so we were not able to set the record straight.
Some campaigners also got the added bonus of having an e-mail written by Larry Agose, Virgin Nigeria’s Director of Corporate Commmunications, pasted into their reply. He claimed:
I confirm that we were approached to carry her on our flight for tomorrow, but we declined. We also do not intend to carry her on any of our subsequent flights.
So what’s going on here? Kemi’s removal directions told her she was about to be flown out of the UK on Tuesday 8th July at 10.15am on Virgin Nigeria flight VK292 from Gatwick North Terminal. There are a number of possible explanations to this mystery, but none of them leave Virgin Nigeria or the Home Office looking particularly good.