Media release

Airlines at risk of engaging in human rights abuses as more asylum seekers and refugees await removal to Sri Lanka

As 15 asylum seekers await deportation to Sri Lanka tonight, the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR) is again calling on commercial airlines, including Qantas and Virgin Australia to rule out participation in involuntary transfer and forced removal activities on behalf of the Department of Home Affairs to manage their risk of being implicated in serious human rights abuses.

It is understood that the asylum seekers who are expected to be removed tonight have been living in the Australian community for over four years and are part of the so-called “legacy caseload”. This cohort has repeatedly been denied due process in making their asylum claims.

They have been refused legal support, interpreters, and have had to meet extreme and unrealistic deadlines or face automatic refusal of their claims.

The UNHCR has stated that changes to application deadlines for the “legacy caseload” cohort “create a significant risk that individuals’ claims for protection may not be adequately nor accurately considered, giving rise to the possibility of refugees being returned to persecution (refoulement) in violation of Australia’s international obligations …”

Brynn O’Brien, Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR) said:

“The domestic mechanisms for assessing asylum claims in Australia are woefully inadequate and have been roundly criticised by international and domestic human rights bodies. To shield themselves from legal, financial and reputational risks, Qantas and Virgin should run a mile from any involvement in facilitating Australia’s refugee policies.

“Qantas has continued to take a ‘head in the sand’ approach by recommending that investors vote against a shareholder resolution regarding deportations to danger at its AGM in October. This will ring alarm bells for their investors.

“ACCR has already commenced briefings of Qantas’ investor base and there is significant concern that the company has failed to gauge the extent of the business risk associated with forced removals. If this position carries into the AGM, we expect that there will be a strong vote against the Qantas board’s recommendation.

“Companies should not trust the Australian government’s assurances that the human rights of asylum seekers have been upheld. More often than not, the opposite is true. Companies, not governments, are best placed to assess business risk. In this case, the risk is too great, and the return far, far too small.”



  • In August 2018, ACCR filed a shareholder resolution calling on Qantas to halt their involvement in deportations to danger until a suitable risk management process could be undertaken. The resolution (pg 15) and supporting statement (pg 21-23) are included in Qantas Notice of Meeting available here.
  • A number of prominent Australians have signed a public statement calling on airlines not to “participate in deportations where there is evidence that the fundamental human rights to an adequate legal process have been denied, as well as where there is a real risk of serious, irreparable harm to an individual.”
  • The UNHCR has repeatedly condemned Australia’s removal of asylum seekers to Sri Lanka, stating that these removals risk Australia’s non-refoulement obligations under the refugees’ convention by returning a person to a place “where [their] life or freedom would be threatened”.
  • Asylum seekers returned to Sri Lanka are routinely arrested at the airport, and the use of torture continues to be endemic and remain common.