UK Politics

Home Office pledges to tackle UK border discrimination

Immigration official checking British passport Image copyright PA
Image caption There were long queues at passport control in British airports over the summer

The Home Office says it is committed to ensuring there is no discrimination against ethnic minority passengers who are stopped at British airports and ports under the Terrorism Act.

It follows a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which said people of Pakistani origin were 52 times more likely to be stopped.

Schedule 7 of the act allows officers to detain people for up to nine hours.

The Home Office said it was working closely with the EHRC.

Last month the EHRC published a report that found that Asian people were 11 times more likely to be stopped at UK ports and airports than white people, with people of specifically Pakistani background 52 times more likely to be stopped.

The report added they were 135 times more likely to be questioned and examined for more than an hour, and 154 times more likely to be detained.

'DNA was also taken'

Black people were 6.3 times more likely to be stopped, while the number for mixed-race passengers was 3.6 times.

Shamy Israel, from Keighley, West Yorkshire, has been stopped four times in as many years.

He told the BBC: "I was questioned for hours, my photo and fingerprints taken. On one occasion my DNA was also taken and my family who'd come to collect me at the airport were also questioned."

As a British national born and brought up in the UK, he says he feels "marginalised" and the "fear and distress" have stopped him from travelling.

Figures show that 53,992 people were stopped as they left or entered the UK in 2012-13.

The Home Office said in a statement: "Schedule 7 [of the Terrorism Act 2000] is a vital border security power which helps the police, Security Service and other agencies detect and disrupt terrorist threats."

It said the schedule directly led to about 20 prosecutions a year for terrorist-related offences between 2005 and 2009 and a number of key individuals have been convicted after being stopped at a port or airport.

Lord Carlile of Berriew, the former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, said the schedule is an essential part of Britain's border security: "It is a necessary and proportionate provision and plays an important part in protecting national security."

But Ratna Lachman, of JUST West Yorkshire, an organisation that promotes racial justice, civil liberties and human rights, says of the use of Schedule 7: "It's become so normalised that most don't even feel it's wrong, and that's shocked us."

'Stereotyping'

Campaign groups such as JUST are now calling for an urgent review of Schedule 7.

Ms Lachman said: "Stop-and-searches are happening based on stereotyping rather than being intelligence-led. We need more checks and balances in the operation of this measure." She said that young Muslim men are being targeted unfairly.

The government carried out a review of Schedule 7 powers in 2012, including a public consultation.

As a result it introduced a number of reforms, which are currently going through Parliament.

These include allowing those held for longer than an hour to consult a solicitor, a reduction in the time someone can be held from nine hours to six hours, and training and accreditation for all officers using Schedule 7 powers.

After its report, the EHRC said: "We are working with those responsible for these examinations to ensure they are following their own guidelines, which prohibit discrimination on ethnic grounds in the exercise of this power."

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