Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Muslims picked out at airports

By LOUISE BLEAKLEY
stuff.co.nz

Muslims say they are being harassed when they enter New Zealand because of global fears about terrorism.

Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand president Javed Khan said he would call on the Government this week to investigate why Muslims had to endure inspections for hours in New Zealand airports without explanation.

"The only reason is that they have got Muslim names and beards. It's getting worse and worse. They are asking for all sorts of information from them. It's totally unnecessary. It's tantamount to harassment," he said.

Khan had received several complaints from Muslims, furious at what they believed was targeted harassment by customs and immigration officials.

The level of scrutiny in the past year was unprecedented in New Zealand.

Khan said Muslims across the country were furious.

"People have started to talk in the community that government and officials at the airport are detaining Muslims left, right and centre. It's totally unacceptable," Khan said.

"Maybe they catch a few people to show it's not only Muslims, but I can tell you Muslims are targeted for inspection."

Department of Labour deputy secretary Mary Anne Thompson said a small proportion of travellers were detained by immigration staff when aspects of their application "seemed to require further scrutiny".

Their country of origin had no influence on this process.

Muslim Association of Canterbury (MAC) member Hussam Razzaq said he had heard many stories of Muslims being held up at airports but this was possibly due to increased sensitivity among Muslims.

"Muslims know that if anything happens in the world something will backlash on them – so they become more aware and nervous," he said.

"Behaviour deemed normal in the past is considered racism."

Razzaq's own belongings were thoroughly checked by immigration officials for the first time in 18 years when he returned from a recent trip abroad.

Airport staff were polite but firm when they asked questions about his luggage in what appeared to be a random check.

It was an anxious hour-long wait, he said.

MAC president Khalifa Alhasi said while the checks might have been random, they were rankling Muslims.

"They are really angry. They say I'm not coming any more to New Zealand," he said. "Sometimes it's too much. I've been living in New Zealand for 10 years and they still stop me for two or three hours."

Three months ago, a Muslim asked for his lawyer when an immigration official at Auckland airport asked to look inside his wallet.

"People come from overseas – some of them they sit for four hours," he said.

A Labour Department spokeswoman said officials did not collect data on people detained and checked routinely at the border.