The initial experience of having their passports cancelled varied between participants. For some it came after they had been stopped and questioned on one or a number of occasions. In Karim’s case he had been subject to a number of schedule 7 stops where on the third time the police seized some of his personal possessions including his passport as permitted under investigatory counterterrorism powers.
On the eve of the day that the authorities were obliged to return it a police officer knocked on the door of his family home and informed him that the Home Office had decided to cancel his passport which, he was reminded, was the property of the crown. The letter that he received read clearly: “There is no entitlement to a passport” and then proceeded to lay out justifications for its cancellation.
In Karim’s case the behaviours cited as sufficient cause to justify the removal of his passport included being late to the airport before a flight, having encryption software on a USB stick that he was carrying, previously attempting to go on an aid convoy to Syria and displaying ‘bad character’ – a judgement based upon hesitant responses during a schedule 7 stop and providing a business email address rather than his personal email address when asked for contact details.
His lawyers had countered these assertions by stating that the DLR had been suspended on the day he was travelling to the airport, that the Police had returned the USB to him which was an indication that they were not concerned with anything on there, and that his intentions to go on an aid convoy were entirely legitimate. In an initial court hearing to contest the process and recover his personal belongings the judge noted that while each of the points made only raised a minor suspicion, collectively they amounted to something more serious, and so approved the retention of his passport.
The interviewees revealed a range of acts that were cited by authorities for justification of suspicion, including carrying a sizeable amount of cash before a trip abroad.
Participation, or attempts to participate, in aid convoys to Syria was frequently cited as reason for suspicion. Shamim explained that proof of his voluntary work at a refugee camp in Turkey had been disregarded.
Some connection or association, even tangential, with an individual deemed to be suspicious or engaged in ‘extremist activities’ was also mentioned as a prompt for state intervention.
Most of the interviewees reported being asked to work for the security services, often on numerous occasions, and sometimes warned that it would be in their best interests to do so. Passports would be returned to them, or citizenship granted, if they cooperated.
One interviewee explained: “If you don’t work with us, traveling is gonna get harder for you [they said]. [They gave me a] card, [and said] give me a call” (Mohammed).