'Do they think I'm a terrorist?' - British family 'humiliated' at being forced to cancel dream holiday (From Times Series)
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'Do they think I'm a terrorist?' - British Muslim family from Hendon 'humiliated' at being forced to cancel dream holiday to USA
Mohamed Hussein and his youngest son Shuhaib. Mr Hussein says his family has been discriminated against because of their name and beliefs
It was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime for the Hussein family - two weeks in the United States, taking in Los Angeles and San Francisco with their three children, as well as a tour of the world-famous Universal Studios on their youngest son’s birthday.
But months of anticipation and excitement gave way to embarrassment and humiliation when the family-of-five was told at the airport that they had been banned from flying to the US by the Department of Homeland Security (DoHS).
The British-born Muslim family now claim they were the victims of racial discrimination by the US authorities and feel they were treated “like second class citizens” because of their name and beliefs.
Weeks before they were due to fly, father Mohamed had successfully applied for visa-waiving ESTA documents for his wife Farzana, their 19-year-old daughter Zaina, and their two boys Ismail, 21, and Shuhaib, 13.
But at the Heathrow airport check-in desk on August 25, they were told by United Airlines staff that these had been revoked at the last minute without explanation, meaning the family were no longer eligible to fly.
Mr Hussein, a 46-year-old civil engineer who has lived in Hendon all his life, said: “We couldn’t believe it. We were all very upset. You start to think, why? Is it my name, my beliefs? Do they think I’m a terrorist?
“It was humiliating and distressing for all of us. It makes you wonder what people think of you – you feel persecuted.”
The cancellations applied to every member of the family, who live in Hendon, except the youngest, Shuhaib, a student at Hendon School.
The airline rescheduled the tickets for three days later, to allow Mr Hussein to visit the US Embassy in London.
There, officials confirmed the ESTAs had been revoked but they too were given no explanation by the DoHS – a situation one embassy employee described as “unusual”.
Mr Hussein was told he and his family would have to apply for a standard visa, a process that takes at least ten days, and he was subsequently forced to cancel the £6,500 dream holiday.
To add insult to injury, on the day of the rescheduled flights, Mr Hussein received an email from the DoHS informing him that Shuhaib's ESTA had also now been revoked.
His children, the eldest two of whom are studying civil structural engineering and economics at university, and his wife, a senior pharmacy technician, were left devastated.
Mr Hussein, a member of the Hendon Mosque, said: “I have nothing to hide and nor does my family. If they want to do additional checks or make full applications for visas, that is fine, but I would like to be told before we turn up at the airport and at least given a reason.”
Following their ordeal, the Husseins managed to book a last-minute deal to Thailand for seven nights to try to make up for the disappointment.
The family has received most of the money back from their cancelled US holiday, though Mr Hussein is continuing to go back and forth with United Airlines and travel agent Southall Travel.
Mr Hussein said: “I really want to publicise the situation and make other people aware that this could happen to them. We all support extra security checks but this does not seem right.”
The Times Series has contacted the Department of Homeland Security for a comment, though Mr Hussein did receive an email from the agency in response to his complaint.
A spokesman wrote in the response: “We can feel your frustration, however the system can deny any ESTA at any time and that is the reality.”
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