“I am detaining you, please step into the waiting area sir,” said the immigration officer.
“What? Why? I don’t understand,” I pleaded. But before I knew it, and without any explanation, I was ushered into a rectangular pen in the middle of the immigration hall.
I took a seat, buried my head in my hands while I tried to process what had just occurred.
“What did I do wrong,” I asked my self. The immigration lady was a sweet older woman and I answered her nearly 50 questions calmly and in truth. The truth being that I am a backpacker and I plan to leave the UK in around a week through the port of Dover.
“Maybe she thought I was on drugs,” I thought, as I envisioned my drowsy disposition after the sleepless flights from NYC to Reykavik and Reykavik to Gatwick.
“Or maybe, she found my old record!” I wondered as a pang of anxiety put even more stress on my already plane pressurized colon.
When I was 16, Scottish police believed that I was selling drugs, an accusation that couldn’t have been more far fetched. While I was never caught, I was always worried that I might be in their database.
“But that was over 8 years ago, and I have since entered the UK without any problems, so it couldn’t be that,” I thought as I clenched to hold in another mean post plane fart.
Frustrated, I walked over towards one of the guards to try and find out why I was being detained and for how long. I asked, “Excuse me sir, I know you get this question a lot, but how long does this….” Before I had finished my sentence, I was accosted with a flurry of incomprehensible British slang and curses. So rude was his response that I was momentarily stunned.
I was treated like a criminal and I didn’t even know my crime. Essentially, I was guilty until proven innocent.
Now furious over his lack of manners, and the injustice of the situation, I walked to the center of the holding area and yelled, politely yet sternly “Would someone please tell me the reason why I am being detained”
Suddenly, the direct attention hundreds of passengers passing through immigration was now on me. “Oye” I thought, as I temporarily shrunk under their bleary eyed and confused gazes.
While my fellow passengers had heard me, the guards pretended not to notice. And in a matter of seconds, my outburst had been forgotten.
Defeated, I sulked back into my chair.
Sitting next to me was an Arab, a Frenchman, and a hardcore looking band from Japan. Since I speak some Japanese, I introduced my self and asked them why they were being detained. To which they responded, some of us don’t have the proper visas. “Well at least there is no confusion as to why they are here,” I thought.
As time passed and my frustration grew, I decided I would do something that would surely get someone’s attention. I decided I would hit the record button.
As expected, guards quickly arrived, demanded that I turn off my camera, and delete my video. Gathering as much bravado as I could, I responded, “Not until you provide an explanation as to why I am being detained.” Not wanting to cause a scene in front of the passengers, the power hungry guards scurried off in search of their superiors.
After 10 minutes, an agent who seemed to be of higher authority politely greeted me. Together, we retrieved my luggage and he searched through it. He then instructed me to empty all the cards from my wallet and wait yet again for another bag check and interrogation.
After 30 minutes of waiting, I was greeted by a friendly looking agent named Ken who ushered me into a holding facility that seemed to double as a children’s playroom.
He then handed me a document, which stated, You have been detained under paragraph 16 of schedule 2 to the 1971 act 01 arrested under paragraph 17 of schedule 2 to that act.
Upon reading, I defiantly demanded a copy of this act and further explanation as to why I was being detained.
To this, Ken calmly responded in his British accent, “Look, I am on your side. And if you want to get out of here, you don’t want to be demanding these kinds of things. Just stay calm and answer all questions truthfully”
As I heard his words, I realized that he was right. I had no choice but to comply. I had no rights in this detention facility. And if these agents so decided, they could imprison me in a proper detention facility for days before being deported. As much as this injustice had angered me, I decided to keep my cool and do what they said.
Following a pat down and a few more questions, he then escorted me to another holding facility. Here, he offered me tea and a sandwich, sustenance I was incredibly grateful for.
After around two hours, a lady officer took me to another room for another round of interrogation. She was cold and expressionless and I could tell she had done this a thousand times before. But as the questions progressed and she began to realize that I really was just a backpacker, she began to lighten up.
When the questions ended, I asked her, “So what was the meaning of all this?” She responded, “I believe my colleague initially detained you because she was unsure of your plans in the UK and also because you don’t have a flight out of here.”
To my great relief, she then said, “I will grant you permission to enter the UK.”
After being detained for 6 hours, I was finally free!
Though the guards amiably escorted outside and wished me good luck on my travels, no one offered any kind of apology or offered to reimburse my buss ticket.
Lessons learned: In order to avoid detention in the first place, make sure that you convey to the immigration officer a clear plan and date of departure. Even if your plans are not yet finalized, like many backpackers plans aren’t, just make them up. Don’t give them any impression that you are seeking to reside or work in the UK.
If you are detained as I was, hide your defiance, be compliant, and kill them with kindness, because like Guantanamo Bay, YOU HAVE NO RIGHTS.