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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.

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There is now a campaign page for sanctuary for Kemi, Taiwo and Yasim all campaign updates will appear on this page, please forward the link to anyone who would be willing to support the family.

Since No Borders South Wales launched the campaign to keep Kemi, Taiwo and Yasim safe in Cardiff last week, there has been considerable media interest in the case. The BBC carried information across it’s network, including radio and online. The South Wales Echo has carried stories of the averted deportation and planned removal this tuesday. Media Wales stablemate the Wales on Sunday ran an interview with Kemi and Taiwo which is well worth a read. And News Wales also recently carried a story about the growing political support for Kemi, this time focussing on Plaid Cymru MEP Gill Evans. The campaign has also gained the support of Cardiff CouncilNCADCthe F-Word, and more.

WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP

1) Please contact Virgin Nigeria to raise your concerns that Kemi isn’t fit to fly and she and her family will be at risk if deported. Use this model letter please amend/change re-write as you see fit but please remember to quote Kemi Ayinde, flight VK292, 10.15am, 08.07.08.

2) Please send urgent faxes/Emails immediately to, Rt. Hon. Jacqui Smith, Secretary of State for the Home Office: You can use this model letter please amend/change re-write as you see fit but please remember to include the HO Ref S1387236.

3) Contact Stop the Traffik and Virgin Unite to highlight how Virgin’s role in Kemi and family’s up coming deportation  directly contradicts their support of victims of trafficking.

It has been found that the Virgin Group (51% owners of Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd, which owns 49% of Virgin Nigeria Airways), through its charitable foundation Virgin Unite has direct links with anti-trafficking charity Stop the Traffik who pledge to “protect the victims of trafficking”. Virgin Unite states “Virgin Unite is fully behind Stop The Traffik to end slavery once and for all”.

Virgin’s role in the up coming deportation of Kemi, Taiwo and Yasim (more details here) directly contradicts their work with Stop The Traffik. It is fundamentally hypocritical of the Virgin Group to support a charity that is there to defend and support victims of trafficking, while at the same time potentially playing such a key role in sending a direct victim of trafficking back to a country where she faces the very real prospect of retribution. The fact that Kemi was trafficked is not disputed by the Home Office. In its letter of refusal it stated that “your account that you have been trafficked to the UK has been accepted”. We encourage everyone to complain to the airline about this injustice and its contradictory practices.

WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP

Contact Stop the Traffik and Virgin Unite to highlight how Virgin’s role in Kemi and family’s up coming deportation directly contradicts their support of victims of trafficking.

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