A young British Muslim teacher was escorted off a New York-bound flight by US officials in front of the school party he was helping lead has spoken of his concerns that he was targeted simply because of his religion, the Guardian reports.
Maths teacher Juhel Miah, 25, who was born in Birmingham and brought up in Swansea, said this treatment left him feeling humiliated. Both he and his school are demanding an explanation from the US authorities.
Miah told the Guardian: “I’m not an angry type of person. I don’t get easily worked up, otherwise I wouldn’t be a teacher. But I was definitely angry. It hit me the hardest was when I was being escorted off the plane. Everyone was looking at me.
“Not just members of the public but my school, my kids, fellow teachers. It made me feel so small, as if I had done something wrong, as if I am a criminal. Everyone must have been thinking that – even the kids from my school. I hope not but that’s what was going through my head. I didn’t know where to look.
“This shouldn’t happen to anyone. I’ve followed all the procedures. I’ve ticked all the right boxes yet they made me feel like a criminal. I’ve got no criminal record, I’ve never been in trouble. I was in shock, I couldn’t believe it was happening. I felt powerless, as if I was being targeted and there was nothing I could do.
“No one could give me an explanation. The only thing I can put it down to unfortunately – I hope I’m wrong – is because I’m a Muslim. That’s all I can put it down to. I hope that’s not true.”
Miah’s ordeal came a week after a US court upheld a decision to suspend President Donald Trump’s executive order that temporarily banned entry to the country from seven Muslim-majority countries.
The Welsh first minister, Carwyn Jones, has written to the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, asking for “urgent clarification”.
Miah was one of five adults from Llangatwg community school near Neath, south Wales, who were accompanying a party of 39 children to New York via Iceland last week.
“Iceland was amazing,” said Miah. But the problems started at Keflavík international airport near Reykjavik where the party was catching their plane on to the US.
“I gave one of the American officials there my passport. My first name is Mohammed. It felt as if straight away she looked up and said: ‘You’ve been randomly selected for a security check.’
“Deep down I thought: ‘Here we go’ but I was polite and followed all the instructions. She took me into this room. There were five or six other officials. Two of them checked me. They made me take my jacket off, my hoodie off, they opened my bag, I took my shoes off. They made me stand on a stool. They rubbed me all the way down. They even pulled my trousers down to check my boxers. They rubbed their hands under my feet. They got a swab and wiped me all over. Eventually they let me go through.”
On board the Icelandair plane, Miah, who has a first-class degree from Swansea University, helped the eight boys he was in charge of to settle. “I could see out of the corner of my eye an American official coming towards me. She asked: ‘Are you Mohammed Miah? You need to come with me.’ She took me to the front of the plane and escorted me off. She said: ‘I’ve just received a phone call. You are not allowed to go to New York and you are not allowed to be on this plane.’” He protested that he was a British citizen with a valid visa. “I was asking for a reason, they couldn’t give me one.”
Miah was provided with vouchers for a taxi and a hotel. Next day he went to the US embassy in Reykjavik. He was made to wait outside in the rain. “The security guard stopped me, took my passport, came back 10 minutes later. He didn’t want to know. He gave me a card with three numbers on.” There was no answer from the first number and the others did not ring out.”
The school arranged to fly Miah back to the UK. As he waited to return he tried to think why he had been thrown off the plane. “I was going through everything. I was thinking have I said something on social media but I’m very careful because I’m a teacher.”
He has not been to any of the seven countries – Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and Libya – whose citizens were the subject of Trump’s travel ban. His parents are of Bangladeshi origin. “None of my family has been to those countries. My brother flew to Florida last year. I still can’t pinpoint why me.
“I hope this isn’t true, I really don’t want this to be true but it all started with the first American official I met and the moment she read Mohammed.
“I just hope this doesn’t happen to anyone else. That’s my number one goal now. I want a reason, an explanation. If it was a mistake someone should just put their hands up and say it was a mistake and it won’t happen again. I would still like to go to America one day. I just hope it boils down to human error and someone says sorry.”