by Sayid Aden Ali
Somali-born British athlete Mo Farah stopped at customs? He’s not alone…
Yes, as Jamal Osman, a UK Journalist and a fellow Somali put it Mo Farah isn’t alone in his troublesome encounters with customs and security agencies. In fact many Somalis, and I can’t stress the “many” part enough, share the same plight.
Unfortunately for us, our community has come under the gaze of UK security agencies after the Al Qaeda-aligned Al Shabaab (The Youth) forces gained a foothold in Somalia.
And this gaze manifested in the relentless targeting of this young immigrant community.
As Jamal says, many young Somalis suffer in silence not able to share their stories. And for far too long I’ve never shared mine, so here is my story.
On the summer of 2009, I received a phone call from a private number. I usually don’t pick up private numbers, but I was looking for a summer job in between my university break at the time, so I eagerly picked up. And the conversation continued as follows.
“Hi, is this Sayid?”
“My name is David, and I am calling from the secret service, do you know what that is?”
“Yes, do you mean MI5?”
“Yes, don’t worry you’re not in trouble, you haven’t done anything”
“I know I haven’t”
Yes, I was spooked out. A million questions ran across my head. As “David” explained they wanted to meet with me to ask me questions about a school friend who was convicted for a terrorism related offence.
In this day and age, being a Muslim, you are bound to know someone who either is convicted, charged or suspected of terrorism.
As innocent as their request was, I wanted nothing to do with it. As far as I was concerned the person in question was doing his time, and I didn’t want to get involved with mysterious spies who in my book didn’t have the best record when it came to human rights (referring to torture and renditions).
But “David’ was adamant to meet me alone and resulted to slight threats, the kind you would need to read between the lines. The fact that he could pay me a visit where I live, and this obviously meant I would get my family involved.
Somali families do not like to be bothered by the police or even worse the MI5. They feel the least they can do for their host country is to be law-abiding citizens.
After several phone calls the subliminal treats turned to offers of money for my service. Tempting right? Especially for a student who is looking for work.
Thankfully I wasn’t raised up on such morals. I wanted this to end, and so it did. At least the phone calls did.
To date I do not know what their real purpose was. I offered to answer any questions they had via email, but did not receive any.
In this community, talk is rife with young men getting quizzed by mysterious men and women. Some of these mysterious people come in disguise. They offer money to spy on their community.
This story did not end here. Unfortunately for me the phone calls was just the begging. The biggest difficulty that many face is at the boarders.
Like many others, I have never committed a crime, yet you are made to feel like the biggest criminal in the world upon entering the UK boarders. All because you look different.
At Heathrow airport in the summer of 2010 on my way back from a trip to Egypt after graduating from university, I meet Rob and David. Rob and David are police officers, or they are pretending to be police officers but are in fact secret service? Either way they stop me at customs and it was the most unpleasant experience I have ever had.
“Don’t worry you haven’t done anything, we just want to ask you a few questions.”
These few questions took three hours and at the end of it all they took my mug shots, the type they take of criminals. Fingerprints and DNA samples were taken. I have never felt so violated.
How could all of this be done in the name of security? What happened to human rights?
A year later, I came back from a family wedding in Sweden via Stansted airport. A friendly customs officer greeted me. Being British we joked about the weather. But the smile soon evaporated upon scanning my passport. It was as if he had seen a ghost.
“Is every thing ok?”
“No…yes…just…just take a seat!”
I sat down while others; some of whom were on the same flight as me, look on and go through with ease. They must be thinking I’m an illegal immigrant. But little do they know this is meant to be my country too.
I am a humanitarian aid worker, and my work involves frequent travelling to humanitarian hotspots around the world. I enjoy what I do because I believe I am saving lives. I can see the impact of what I do, every time I go and visit one of our projects.
In this era of post 9/11 - 7/7 the UK has adopted draconian policies and laws when it comes to its Muslim population. Where people are being held without charge, extradited, held in secret locations around the world, and most recently striped of citizenship.
It appears the British security services have been given a blank cheque to do as they please in the name of security. But they could be causing us more harm than good in the long run, as it will only create anger, mistrust and will further alienate the community.
I am a very patient person and for the most part this allows me to deal with being stopped at UK boarders and being asked ridiculously silly questions but I hope there is an end to this.
This article was originally published on Newsflick