Apologise for racially profiling me as a terrorism threat.
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On a Thomson Airlines flight to Marmaris in July for my honeymoon, I was reported by a member of cabin crew for ‘suspicious behaviour’.
This is because I was reading an award-winning book titled ‘Syria Speaks, Art and Culture from the Frontline’ - a beautiful collection of poems, drawings and other literature compiled by over 50 writers and artists.
It was described by a member of the cabin crew to the police as a ‘Syrian phrasebook’. Firstly ‘Syrian’ is not a language. Secondly, this report means she inferred a link between reading a Syrian art and culture book and terrorism. There is also the unspoken connection between my racial and religious background.
On arrival in Turkey, I was stopped for a ‘random check’ as I was getting off the plane. This made me and my husband feel embarrassed and upset at the very moment we should have been enjoying the start of our honeymoon.
On my return to the UK, two anti-terrorism police officers awaited me as I got through passport control. I was left in tears in front of the other passengers as I was taken to a room for questioning under the terrorism act, schedule 7 for around 30 minutes. This experience has left me feeling very distressed and angry after both the outbound and return journeys, as well as having a lasting emotional impact.
I submitted a complaint to Thomson raising questions of my mistreatment, emotional distress and addressing the fact that this is a case of racially aggravated harassment. They responded to my complaint almost two months later, and only after I shared my story with Channel 4. Thomson ignored all issues raised by responding with a dismissive and minimal email. Their response was inadequate and disappointing taking no responsibility for their actions and disregarded all issues addressed in my complaint. This is not okay - and is why I'm calling for an apology.
Thomson Airways must provide an explanation for the actions they have taken. They have stated that the safety of their customers and employees is of primary importance. What was the safety concern in my case? Somewhere along the line, a member of staff has formed the belief that reading a book is a trigger for concern.
Thomson Airways state in the complaint that the staff undergo training on a regular basis but how does their training mitigate incidents like the one I had? Precisely what training do the staff get that led to this situation arising? Do Thomson Airways stand by that training? Or, do they believe their training requires review?
Incidents like this seem to be occurring frequently, I am certainly not the only one who has experienced this. Security is a priority however; Thomson Airways must recognise that where terrorism is concerned they should keep a sense of proportion before condoning this kind of behaviour. Legislation is misused and innocent people behaving in entirely normal ways are branded ‘suspicious’. We must challenge this worrying trend before it becomes even more widespread.
Thomson Airways must recognise that being vigilant to radicalisation and security concerns does not mean their staff should immediately adopt an extreme and heavy-handed response to anything unfamiliar that they see. They further need to realise that this kind of action can increase radicalisation among those it affects. That, too, is an aspect of public safety that they are ignoring. They are applying their safety checks too broadly and casually, and they are oblivious to the repercussions.
I call on Thomson airlines to:
- Issue an apology and coherent explanation for this profiling.
- Show what measures they are putting in place to stop this happening to others.
To keep passengers safe in due proportion and to counter terrorism are not mutually exclusive. Thomson is a using its power too casually, without thought and without due diligence.
Please sign my petition to show Thomson airlines that this type of profiling is not acceptable.
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