Auckland Airport – June 2010

I was returning from a six month teaching stint at a school in the UAE. I have been a New Zealand citizen since 2010 and was using my New Zealand passport.

At the arrival check, the agent checking my passport was all smiles but then instead of letting me move on as all the European Kiwis were being allowed to do he asked me to go to a separate room on the right for more questioning. The agent there asked me a few questions – very nicely and politely, and then wondered why I had been sent here before letting me go.

The only explanation I can give for my treatment was that I had a Muslim name and/or brown skin.

It is not a good feeling when you are treated with suspicion in-spite of having a New Zealand passport. It makes you feel that you do not really belong.

A Typical Case Study

I  am emailing you regarding my experience at the NZ customs at the airport yesterday as I was returning my overseas trip so that you are aware of this continued practice by the customs of deliberate target of people from Muslim backgrounds. Despite our outcry and numerous complaints about the NZ Airport customs over the years, nothing seems to change. This story is not unique to me but I am sure many Muslims face this unfair treatment at the hands of the NZ customs. I had been away 10 days visiting Turkey. I also spent couple of days in Dubai. When I arrived back yesterday at the airport I was sent to the special lane where people are questioned about their trip and their bags searched. I don’t mind to be searched occasionally as I have got nothing to hide but I was surprised at the level of questioning about my trip. I had to give the names of the places I visited in Istanbul, addresses and contact details of the people I met, hotels I stayed, the nature of my trip, giving details of the conference I attended on behalf of FIANZ – it was indeed very grilling and I felt sick to my stomach that I had to give the contact details of the people I met for the first time at the conference or members of the Somali community I met by chance etc. The customs officer who was questioning me was a young woman and she told me the reason for this questioning was because of my visit to Turkey, She told me she herself visited Turkey last year and I asked if she was questioned about her trip upon her return. Of course the answer was NO. 

After spending about 45 minutes with the first officer, I proceeded to another officer in another area where my mobile phone was taken away from me and my bags emptied. I had to give names and contact details of people I know or organisations I belong here in New Zealand. So I gave both your names and mobile numbers as I told them I belonged to FIANZ and my local Waikato Muslim Association. Furthermore they took my mobile and a USB flash drive as they said they needed to see the contents. 

They did this viewing in a room away from me so I am not sure whether they downloaded all my phone contacts/messages or just browsed a bit to check any suspicious content. I asked the officer about that and he assured me that nothing was downloaded. I don’t trust them. The sad thing is that I went through Istanbul and Dubai airports without any problem because, I am assuming, they see a New Zealand passport holder and they think I would pose no risk but the country that I hold their passport treats me with suspicion and assumes I am someone to be watched over. 

All my previous trips it was the same experience – other countries I visited, no problem but coming back “home(?)” it is different. To my count this would be my fifth bad experience at the NZ airport out of possible 11 overseas trips since I arrived in New Zealand 23 years ago. The only consolation I got from the officer yesterday as he told me everything was fine was that hopefully next time I would not be a target!! I don’t believe that. Anyways just sharing that and hoping that we continue highlighting this issue with the government officials we engage with. I have cc’ed our local MP…

“I’ve been in this country for so many years it is annoying”

“Understand why, but a bit angry because not being done right.”

“I didn’t complain about the first scan. They kept asking me if I had hidden anything. They asked me so many times and I kept saying no. Then they let me go and I thought I was clear. Then they stopped me again.”

“I didn’t complain about the first scan. They kept asking me if I had hidden anything. They asked me so many times and I kept saying no. Then they let me go and I thought I was clear. Then they stopped me again.”

“I understood why [NZ Customs] stopped me once, but to happen again?”

“You are tired and think you are finally home…and you think “maybe this is not home”.