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Forced detention, interrogation and £20 Nicorettes… Welcome to Britain

prison barsBy Jonathan

The Privacy Surgeon is shepherding an appeal by a US citizen against UK authorities who improperly detained him and issued an order for his removal from the country. This is Jonathan’s story in his own words.

“So this is it. I’m suddenly in a bleak airport security detention room alongside a bunch of terrified people who seem to be what the government views as suspected criminals, over-stayers and terrorists. The daunting, heavy door closed behind me.

I’m terrified. This is something I’ve never experienced before, but it’s odd how you bond with people under such pressure. One guy, a very despondent New Yorker, had come here to see his girlfriend. The border police told him that he would be deported and that there’s only a 50/50 chance that he’d see her before that moment. He knew that was a lie.

A lovely woman from Nigeria, with family here, took me under her wing and worked hard to walk me through the process. She receives this horrible treatment each year when she visits, inevitably to be let into the country after the harassment is legally exhausted.

The story repeats itself. Good, ordinary people with friends, family, relationships here. Brutalised and intimated because they don’t “fit” the UK’s standard. I’m next, and I can feel the tears building up.

The story repeats itself. Good, ordinary people with friends, family, relationships here. Brutalised and intimated because they don’t “fit” the UK’s standard. I’m next, and I can feel the tears building up.

By the way, while I remember it, if you’d like to contact these unfortunate people directly to show some support, the number for the inmates is +44 1293 579159 and if you have any problems the direct number for the border office is +44 1293 501361.

After what seems an eternity in this horrible place there’s a shift in mood as two men of middle eastern appearance are escorted into the room, speaking Arabic and laughing. How could they be laughing? What’s going on?

The room is spacious, but the air is stale with sadness, fear and sweat. The middle eastern men tell me they would like to swap clothing with me and repeatedly ask for my jacket.

Funny how the innocent-looking ones are always the most trouble. I would like to trade shoes with you.” the older one smiled.

No clock is visible from the inside, so all perception of time disappears. I count my heartbeats to distract my attention.

There is a television that is turned off, but even if it had been on I doubt anyone would be watching. It was suggested by the border police that I take a shower and make myself comfortable. This extreme suggestion sticks with me even now.

The two men keep talking to me in broken English – both asking me if I’m OK. My only response is I hope so and then they start sharing their story. They had been intercepted after flying for 24 hours in an attempt to get into Pakistan.

And you?”

Me? Well, I’m just planning on visiting friends here in Britain.

Let me take a step back and introduce myself.

I’m a young American working class Jewish man, who doesn’t come from the best location or situation. You know, bankrupt small town America. I never had the most support or opportunities, so I took great chances to develop that for myself whilst traveling abroad. Neither of my parents have ever had passports, and it was only once I started traveling that the two of them had caught the ‘travel bug’.

The room is spacious, but the air is stale with sadness, fear and sweat. The middle eastern men tell me they would like to swap clothing with me and repeatedly ask for my jacket.

I had been in great spirits, flying into London Gatwick from Copenhagen airport. I’d been traveling around Europe and even the UK for a bit over two months now and was planning to spend another week with friends in Britain. This was a break I really needed.

I had been warned about UK border police before, but I’ve never broken any rules or done anything wrong so I figured, oh it will be fine.

The man and woman at passport control take one look at me and let off an odd smile. “How long are you planning on visiting the UK?”

I’m only here for one week and then I am off to The Netherlands”

The two take a closer look at my passport and are baffled by the amount of stamps I have. “That’s a lot of stamps for a young man like yourself, how do you support yourself?

We’re worried you might be planning on working in the UK”, they continued. “Please show us flight details and bank statements”.

My phone is just about to run out of battery so I stumble for a bit. I quickly show them my flight out for the following week, but that does not satisfy them.

After ten minutes holding up the queue they led me into what I can only describe as a dog pen and am put on public display. I was in the company of an older man, a lovely Indian guy, who spoke very little English. I would imagine he must be about 60 years old and seemed completely harmless. He’s crying and it brings tears to my face witnessing how he was treated. The man couldn’t make contact with his family for them to verify that he was legitimately visiting. The speed at which the border officials spoke to him was a bit over the top, I could tell the man, just like myself, had no idea what was going on.

After about 45 minutes I was led on what felt like a leash into an interview room. My bag was searched and they removed every piece of paperwork for inspection. “How much inheritance do you have? “We believe you are an over stayer attempting to abuse the Schengen system and our own.”

I knew that I was completely legal, so my answer was short and to the point. At no time was I ever offered the ability to show proof of bank statements. This was completely insane. How do I prove that I can support myself if they won’t allow me to show them my online banking? They fingerprint me, take my photograph and then led me back into the public display section.

The officials made notes on my condition and told me whilst in the dog pen that if I gave them twenty pounds they would go “out of their way” to purchase some nicorette. The officials stated if I didn’t want it now I would want it later, so the option was still there. “Everyone does”, they added.

Later, and back to the detention center, I was immediately forced back into one of those extremely unnerving situations. Five hours had gone by now, at and even before this point I could feel my blood pressure rising and a sense of deep unease. It’s slowly getting later and I was becoming more traumatized.

I’ve been in the detention center for six hours now and am only finally just allowed to make a phone call. Of course, I would have imagined I have the right to a free phone call but this is not the case. I paid the despicable one pound for one minute, and after only 15 seconds I was cut off and back on my own.

Not expecting that any of this could happen, I had departed CPH on an empty stomach with plans to have a late lunch and drinks with many of my friends in the UK. I’m a smoker and having not eaten nor had nicotine for quite a substantial amount of time now, I was more than a little shaky.

The officials made notes on my condition and told me whilst in the dog pen that if I gave them twenty pounds they would go “out of their way” to purchase some nicorette. The officials stated if I didn’t want it now I would want it later, so the option was still there. “Everyone does”, they added.

So here I am, detained. They believe I have no money to support myself and yet they are trying to take twenty pounds off me for nicorette? Expect me to pay one pound for 15 seconds of a phone call? The whole idea was insulting, especially when the babysitters outside the dog pen kept on about just handing over some money and they would see what they could do.

I should say at this point that throughout this whole ordeal, two of my friends were at the airport, pleading with security that I was being supported and loved. They had been there for hours during a working day, and had spent £130 on parking fees just to be there. In a situation like this, you really learn who your friends are.

The official interview began around half past six. I was asked a total of 31 questions and the interview itself took about an hour and a half. I had spent all day waiting on the most vague interview, all the while knowing in my gut that the answers couldn’t have mattered. Their decision was already predetermined as soon as I hit the dog pen.

The interview once again consisted of questions such as what do I know about Schengen, who my friends were, where I was staying, why I was there, and one – off the record – was whether I thought my parents would be happy to hear that I was breaking laws. The inference was they’d already spoken to my parents. That intimidation didn’t work, I believe they were expecting me to break and say ‘OK yes you know what, you’re right’, but I didn’t.

It’s now about 8:30 PM, seven hours of detention later. The woman who interviewed me returns, frantically moving about. Her words were great news!

I’ve done you a big favor. You are being denied entry but I’ve managed to get you on the last flight to the EU. Your flight is in fifteen minutes so there is no time. Please sign this and lets go.”

I was escorted by three border police officers through the underground of Gatwick. They said how cool is this you get to go right under security and end up right at your gate!

Oh, real cool. Still, I couldn’t wait to be on that plane and inhale fresh air again. I was told not to get my hopes up that I would be allowed entry into Denmark, though I was fairly certain that since I had never done anything to justify what the UK did to me I would be OK. Anything would be better than where I was in Britain.

I said to my friends and parents, I highly doubt I will want to go to the UK ever again. But then, I remember the words of that lovely Nigerian lady. She feels like this every year, and yet every year she goes through the same experience.

A side door operated by a code opened up and I’m led to the front of the queue and I’m already at my gate. I was told that I wouldn’t receive my passport until I landed and I would have to get approval from the captain that I would be OK to fly. The captain gave the approval and as soon as the plane took off I could breathe a little, but the trauma never went away.

The plane’s staff members – along with even general people from the public – applauded me. Two woman I sat next to from Sweden said they couldn’t believe how I was treated and not to worry. They said this sort of thing could never happen in Denmark. I smiled for the first time in what felt like an eternity.

Even the cabin crew began to huddle around me and proclaim support and did everything they could to make me feel OK and comfortable. They could tell I was holding back tears so they asked if I would like to move my seat so I could have a bit of space. I couldn’t have ever imagined how a small gesture like that could mean so much to me, but I was surrounded by nice people with smiles again. After all of that stress and fear, and still having uncertainties about what might happen next, I felt there was some real warmth and humanity in the world.

I touched down in Copenhagen at midnight. All I could think about was fresh air and freedom, so I gathered my composure and queued up for the passport control. A read through my passport, an extremely lovely smile and then let in with the pleasant gesture.

Have a wonderful trip”

I couldn’t believe it, in fact I couldn’t believe anything about the whole experience. I sat down for a few moments, jumped on the wifi to let my friends and family know I was safe. I was extremely shaken up, but I was back on solid ground. After many deep breaths, I took a look at my passport. One denied entry stamp into the UK, followed by a brand new entry stamp upon arrival into Denmark.

I said to my friends and parents, I highly doubt I will want to go to the UK ever again. But then, I remember the words of that lovely Nigerian lady. She feels like this every year, and yet every year she goes through the same experience.