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British black woman awarded £2k after claim immigration officer said she 'looked foreign' at Belfast City Airport

'I thought then, and I still think now, that I was stopped because I am black'

By Claire Williamson

Published 20/07/2016

The woman was leaving her mother-in-law to Belfast City Airport.
The woman was leaving her mother-in-law to Belfast City Airport.

A black woman has been awarded £2,000 in a settlement claim where she alleged an immigration officer said she "looked foreign and not from here" as she dropped her relative off at Belfast City Airport.

The case, taken with the support of the Equality Commission against the Home Office, was settled without admission of liability.

The incident happened when the woman was leaving her mother-in-law off at George Best Belfast City Airport.

After dropping her off, the woman and her two children were waiting for the friend who had driven them to the airport to return in a car to pick them up.

The woman was then approached by an immigration officer who asked to see her passport or identification.

She claims the officer said she "looked foreign and not from here".

The Equality Commission said the woman has lived and worked in England for 14 years before moving to Northern Ireland to take up a professional role in 2014 and that she holds a British passport.

She told the officer she was not travelling and was there to drop off her mother-in-law and that she was British before showing her driver's licence.

After asking for details about her mother-in-law and friend who had driven them to the airport, the officer checked her immigration status over a radio link.

This took place near a coffee shop in full view of other people. She was eventually told that everything was OK and she had nothing to worry about.

'I was stopped because I am black'

The woman said:  “I thought then, and I still think now, that I was stopped because I am black. 

"I wasn’t travelling, or passing through an immigration point, and I am a British citizen. I was doing what many other people do without incident, dropping off my relative for her flight.

"One of my children has asked me if we now have to carry our passports everywhere with us.

"I’ve worked in the UK for 16 years, the most recent two of them in Northern Ireland, and I was really upset by this incident and the way it was handled by the Immigration Service.

"It has had a negative and unsettling effect on my family as well as on me. I am grateful for the support we received from the Equality Commission and I hope this case helps ensure that the same thing doesn’t happen to somebody else.”

'Extremely disturbing'

Chief Commissioner of the Equality Commission Dr Michael Wardlow said he found the case "extremely disturbing".

He said: "In effect it has left a woman feeling she has been singled out and had her identity questioned in full public gaze.

“And if a person feels, as this woman did, that they are singled out because of their skin colour, it can be particularly upsetting and humiliating - as it was for our complainant and her children, who witnessed the event.

“Our complainant makes a valuable contribution to Northern Ireland society and it is quite simply unacceptable that she feels she was challenged in a public place only because of the colour of her skin."

Dr Wardlow added: “The irony of this case is that this woman doesn’t feel she can be publicly identified because of the fear of negativity or intimidation.

"She accepts however, that as the issue raises matters of national concern it needs to be made public. The Equality Commission will give advice to anyone who feels they may have been treated unfairly and we can assist people to challenge discrimination in the courts and tribunals.”

The Equality Commission said: "The Home Office, in settling the claim without admitting liability, apologised to the woman for any offence caused.

"It has also recognised the hurt, distress and offence caused to her by subjecting her to questioning in these circumstances and in the manner of investigation of her complaints.

"It has affirmed its commitment to equality of opportunity and has undertaken to ensure its practices and procedures conform with the Race Relations Order."

The Home Office has been contacted for a response.

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