The first time Karim was stopped at an airport for interrogation under Schedule 7 he was on his way to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj pilgrimage. He was 22 years old, living with his parents and working as a healthcare professional while volunteering for a charity that helped Syrian refugees in Turkey. As part of this work, he travelled frequently on aid convoys with other British volunteers. It was when returning from one of these trips that Karim was stopped and briefly questioned at the airport for the second time. But it was not until the third Schedule 7 stop two years later in 2015 when he was traveling to Europe that Karim’s passport was taken from him. The interrogation lasted five hours. The police took his DNA via a mouth swab, his palm and fingerprints, and photographed his face. They asked questions about his family and his occupation, his travel history, bank details and his views on Syria, Yemen and ISIS. He was asked about the intentions of his travel and whether he wanted to help refugees ‘physically’.
‘Do you want to help refugees physically?’
Following the interrogation, the police took Karim’s passport, alongside his money, phone and two USB sticks. They told him that his passport would be retained for two weeks after which there would be a court hearing establishing whether Karim can have his passport back or whether it will be kept for an additional month. The arguments put forward focussed on Karim’s character and supposedly suspicious behaviour that included being late to the airport, going on an aid convoy, carrying Euros and providing a business rather than personal email address during a Schedule 7 stop. Karim’s legal team countered these assertions by stating that the public transport was suspended on the day of his travel and showing that the aid convoys he went on were legitimate. Despite this, the judge ordered an extended retention of the passport for a period of 30 days. Basing the decision in part on secret evidence that neither Karim nor his lawyers were able to hear, the judge concluded that while these points did not raise strong suspicion, collectively they amounted to something serious.
‘There is no entitlement to a passport’
One Sunday evening, the day before the month-long passport retention was up, police knocked on the door of Karim’s family home and handed him a letter informing him that the Secretary of State has decided to cancel the passport. Despite that Karim was never arrested, charged or convicted with any crime, the letter stated that based on his past, current or future activities he was assessed to be an Islamic extremist – revealing the pre-emptive nature of passport removals.
Not having a passport is influencing many spheres of Karim day to day life. One of his major concerns is how this is going to affect his work life and job security, should his employers find out that he had his passport removed.
*All names are pseudonyms*