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UK Immigration Harass IranAir Passengers

By Shirin Saeidi (CASMII Columns)

A few weeks ago I returned from close to four months of fieldwork in Iran conducting research for my doctoral thesis. However, I and the 460 other IranAir passengers were caught off guard by an unwelcome greeting from UK immigration officers. As we set foot off the airplane, our passports were checked, an experience I have never had flying in from other countries. Having just spent hours in Imam Khomeini airport, I was witness to the thorough and professional examination of passports and Visas; thus, I could not understand the logic behind this act except harassment of those who decide to fly with IranAir.

Knowing how international sanctions have affected our safety in the sky, most of us were happy to have landed and were not prepared for the hours that awaited us at the airport. As we finally exited and moved toward the luggage area, I noticed that we were being followed by the same immigration officers who had checked our passports earlier. As time passed, we witnessed American passengers come and go, grab their bags and quickly exit. Our luggage, on the other hand, was coming in sporadically, single bags moving off the conveyer belt every half hour. Several passengers approached the Iranian immigration officer in charge of keeping an eye on us to ask about the delay. What was his response? He explained perfunctorily Iranians have a tendency to smuggle in cigarettes more than other nationals, and so dogs were sniffing each suitcase individually.

As voices began to rise and people lost their tempers, I took out a bag of sweets hoping to eat away the absolute exhaustion from having been awake for 24 hours by that time. I thought about the welcoming response of Iranians toward me during my months as a student from abroad. During that time, I conducted well over 150 interviews on a nationally sacred and highly sensitive security topic, the Iran-Iraq war, and as a researcher I moved freely throughout the country, able to interview whomever I wanted. I interviewed veterans in Shiraz, some of whom consume up to 300 pills a day for chronic pain; yet they never stopped smiling while answering my questions. I talked with the wives and daughters of martyrs in Tehran who readily shared with me the most intimate details of their lives. I gathered the stories of women who had served in Khuzestan's frontlines during the war and spoke with the same sweet accent as my mother and father. I spent time with mothers in Shiraz who served at the front, lost sons to the war and continue their ebadat today.

As I stood waiting for my bags, I remembered the Pasdar who wished me a safe trip and exclaimed khosh amadi as I tearfully left the airport, as well as the kind-hearted IranAir flight attendant who allowed me to carry a particularly large portrait onto the plane. And I could not understand under what suspicions an entire nation could be treated so inappropriately. The young Iranian children on this flight may not look back on that long delay and attribute it to the nuclear energy crisis. They will, however, carry a sense of the injustice that rests at the heart of the humiliation of waiting to see who smuggled too many cigarettes into the UK.

... Payvand News - 09/16/08 ... --

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