A MUSLIM couple who missed their dream holiday to Dubai after being detained by anti-terrorist officers at Cardiff International Airport despite passing rigorous checks through security have vowed they will not rest until they get answers.
Aisha Pritchard, 41, and her Palestinian husband Sadi Elhaloul, 45, from Pentwyn in Cardiff, labelled South Wales police “racist” after their ordeal at the airport in December last year.
The couple had booked a much needed holiday to Dubai in preparation for Mr Elhaloul’s impending heart surgery.
But their dreams of relaxing in the sun were cut short after they were forced to answer questions about their marriage and reasons behind the holiday to Dubai before being told they would have to pay £1,500 for new tickets after missing their flight.
The couple’s ordeal began two hours after they arrived at the airport. Having successfully checked in their luggage and passed through security, they approached the boarding gate where they were stopped by two men.
Speaking to The Asian Today, Mrs Pritchard explained the couple’s ordeal: “When we approached the boarding gate there were two men standing there,” she said.
“They asked us if we were for the Alicante flight as that was now boarding and we replied by saying no. We were for the KLM flight to Dubai via Amsterdam.
“They asked for our passports and boarding cards. We handed our passports over and the gentleman I gave mine to didn’t say anything to me at that moment. The gentleman that my husband gave his passport to looked at it and gave it directly to his colleague.
“His colleague then asked us if we were going direct to Amsterdam to which my husband replied yes but I interrupted as I knew what he had meant by adding we are going to Dubai but had to catch a connecting flight in Amsterdam. They both said that they would need to check our hand luggage and we offered it to them immediately. However they told us we would have to accompany them to a room to search through the bags.”
It was at this point where the couple were forced to endure a number of questions about their private lives and reasons behind the trip as well having hand and check-in luggage searched again.
“I told them it was for a break for four days as Sadi was due to have heart surgery in the next few months and there is a risk he could suffer a stroke,” Mrs Pritchard said.
“I told them I have seven children and we needed a break. In between all of this the other gentleman was coming in and out of the room. As there was nothing in our bags the gentleman who had been asking the questions stopped speaking and started doodling on the paper.”
Things soon turned worse for the couple when with just ten minutes remaining to the departure of their flight, they were told their luggage, which an hour earlier had passed through security onto the plane, would have to be searched.
Mrs Pritchard said she was “shocked” at the decision and felt helpless as they were made to wait while their luggage arrived.
After checking the couple’s luggage both officers returned to give the couple the news they had dreaded – their flight had left without them.
Mrs Pritchard said she burst into tears while husband Sadi asked the two officers why they had not approached the couple after checking in over an hour earlier.
As they were accompanied to the KLM desk by the officers, the couple were told the only way they would be allowed onto a flight would be if they paid £1,500 for new tickets.
Mrs Pritchard said she and her husband was so upset at their treatment they left the airport and caught a taxi home.
Now the couple are adamant their questions into their detention are answered by South Wales Police. Mrs Pritchard said she and her husband wanted to know why they were detained having already passed a number of security checks on route to the boarding gate, and why it took anti-terrorist officers so long to question and search their luggage knowing their flight was due to leave at any minute.
They have been in contact with human rights group Liberty who are helping the couple bring legal action against the police authority.
While Mrs Pritchard admitted she can understand why extra security measure were in place in airports across the country, she said the treatment she was forced to endure alongside her husband amounted to “racism”.
“We understand that there has to be security measures at all airports and even for us to travel on a plane we would expect it to be checked thoroughly”, Mrs Pritchard said.
“It is the way we were treated we cannot accept. We feel we were deliberately stopped from boarding the plane and that down to racism.
“I am white, British and this is the country of all my ancestors but I feel absolutely ashamed that I am British and cannot do anything about the way I was treated. I feel I am paying a price for marrying a foreigner.
“Do I have to change my four daughter’s surnames to my maiden name like I have done for myself. I use my maiden name and not my married name because of racism. Are we always going to be subjected to this treatment due to the colour of my husband’s skin and where he was born?”
Mrs Pritchard added she had since come across a number of cases where other Muslim’s had been detained in the same manner in airports across the country.
She said with the help of Liberty, the couple were hoping to bring a test case specifically against the terrorism act.
“We want to make a change and help Muslims who have been in a similar position as us”, Mrs Pritchard said, adding the couple were looking for financial support to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights.
“We appeal to any Muslims across the country to help support us financially in order to bring this case to the European Court of Human Rights.
“Unfortunately we cannot afford to do this without funding but inshallah if it makes a turning point for all Muslim’s then let’s make a stand.
Mrs Pritchard added they were looking for a “Muslim solicitor who is not afraid to help challenge the law”.
When contacted South Wales Police would only confirm the couple were detained under the Terrorism Act 2000.
If you would like to donate any money towards the couples’ case you can contact Aisha Pritchard at email@example.com
Have you been detained at a UK airport by anti-terrorist police? If so, we would like to hear from you. You can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org