So… im not actually in the UK right now as was planned…
OK. I hope your seated comfortably with a nice beverage to assist you in reading about my bizarre and terrifying ordeal a few days ago.
It all started when I was returning from Switzerland on Saturday ( I had missed my first flight to London so finally in the UK I was looking forward to getting back to the apartment) and I was stopped at customs of London Heathrow for being a 17 year old traveling alone. This had happened a few times before though despite assuring them I was not a runaway (the number of countries on my passport does look pretty suspicious) and was safe with a network of contacts and accommodation, they asked to speak to my parents and I happily complied despite it being midnight at home. Whilst explaining they were well aware my whereabouts, my mother mentioned the few days of work experience id done to provide an example of my maturity for the official. Of course at this stage, in this setting, with this official, uttering the word ‘work’ was the single worst thing that could have happened a I was entering the country on a visitors permit.
Before I knew it, I was swept away for questioning into the locked and guarded holding room hidden behind immigration. All looking straight out of a scary movie, the sparse white room was occupied with older detained men from various ethnicities (some muttering things under their breath walking back and forth with prayer mats and beads others sprawled throughout the room), which greatly added to my growing anxiety and discomfort – despite a female officer joining me some time later. After confiscating and searching through my luggage, I was made an official detainee. I was led into another room to have my mugshot and fingerprints recorded as i tried to mentally register that i was going through the process of accruing a permanent criminal record. Not one to waste new experiences, i somehow convinced the guy taking the photo to print me an extra copy!!!! unfortunately its more like a passport photo than the traditional police multi angled mugshot but its a souvenir from it all nevertheless – once i scan it ill add it to the post 🙂 Yes i know, im a little crazy.
Throughout this i was informally asked a range of questions asked to sign various documents – looking back i can’t remember any of those details as my mind was spinning and it was all so sudden and unexpected. I requested to speak to my parents but was told I could only do so after the official ‘interview’. Not knowing what rights I did or didn’t have I resolved to try and stay calm and be compliant so I could get out of there as quickly as possible! i assumed the worst that would happen would be a slap on the wrist, signing a document to say i would no longer work and then perhaps them checking up on me…. if only.
During the interrogation I was asked a series of questions that along with the answers were paraphrased when documented by hand – poor old Britain still has some technological catching up to! Whilst answering the questions truthfully and remaining as composed as possible -in the interrogation room next to me the official was screaming at the man DO YOU HAVE TIES WITH TERRORIST ORGANIZATIONS, HAVE YOU EVER ENGAGED IN TERRORIST ACTIVITIES etc etc … pretty un-nerving stuff if I do say so myself. After the official left I waited and waited and waited with my fellow detainees (got to know some seemingly nice Brazilians who were in a religious gospel band – i didn’t ask why they were there, as they didn’t tell me so i thought it best not to intrude). During this time i was finally able to speak to my parents who had been unable until now to get through to the officials or myself since the initial conversation about my age and told them what was going on though i still didnt know what was going to happen so they kept trying to get onto the officials. More waiting, which i think is the most mentally draining aspect as you have far too much time to mull things over (it had now been 4 hours since I first arrived at immigration) until the official finally returned. With a dour looking face and a “It’s not good” she literally handed me my ‘sentence’ on a piece of government embossed paper (a definite first for me but not quite something I’ll frame and hang on my bedroom wall, atleast not yet). The British Border Security had decided to refuse me entry to the UK on the grounds that I had violated my visitors permit and said I would be ‘removed (what kind of term is that – removed – like the unwanted stain on a white shirt!) to my country of origin’ on the next possible flight to singapore – which was boarding in 20 minutes.
At this stage my composure cracked as i literally couldn’t believe what was happening, i should have been at home in my cosy apartment – NOT BEING DEPORTED TO THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD!
So I waved goodbye to my detainee friends, wishing them the best of luck though knowing they were probably much worse off than me. Then i gathered my things, though was soon separated from them again when I was escorted away by officials and taken to this huge armored van with thick bulletproof glass between the security guards and myself. Understandable, as clearly I look like a hardened criminal that could kill in under 5 seconds expertly using my pearl earrings which besides my clothing were the only things I had with me….
My my i got some strange looks…
I was first on and last off the planes, my passport confiscated (in case I jumped out the toilet window and did a runner…) and a charming sticker on my seat to notify to all that I required ‘special attention’, im really not sure why they didn’t handcuff me too, considering they’d gone to all this effort already! I was similarly escorted at Singapore though upon explaining the situation (each person I was ‘given’ too didn’t know what to make of this young, nicely dressed girl being escorted everywhere like a volatile and dangerous criminal!
On the plane I was unable to get much sleep as my mind was whizzing at 100 miles an hour about the implications of what had transpired and what would happen now with my roommate, all my belongings still in the apartment, all the plans we had made to see the UK, it was really overwhelming. To take my mind off it I watched a bunch of movies but as soon as the movie was over it was all rush back to me and Id break out into tears ( I also developed a cold in Switzerland so compiled with all this my sinus’s were completely blocked and I had an awful headache!) – the people surrounding me would have definitely thought I was completely insane – one moment fine, then next a complete wreck! – still not sure if this was better than them knowing I was a criminal….
So, about 36 hours after I left my lovely hotel in Switzerland i arrived physically but more so mentally exhausted and unable to digest the events that had passed let alone the fact that it was hot, and everyone had Australian accents and that I was in Brisbane! It was all topped off when I met my final escort in the Brisbane Airport as I departed the plane who looked me up and down, checked with the colleague that I was the one who needed escorting and then shouted 10cm from my face “DO. YOU. SPEAK. ENNNNNNNNNGLISH?”
– FAR beyond seeing the funny of this after all I had been through, after the initial shock I abruptly replied
“I’m Australian, I. Live. Here.”
and continued to make my way with an unparalelled stride of purpose and a ‘dont mess with me’ look covering my face (now that I had my passport!) through immigration and out into the arms of my awaiting mother at 7am local time.
We are currently contacting the British High Commission as we aren’t yet sure of the implications of being refused entry in terms of returning the UK in the near future and also what effect it may have on entering other countries and getting visa’s. Right now the plan is just to make the most of a few weeks in Australia to recover and regroup before i go back overseas to continue on my journey!
It feels so strange being back home as it was all so unexpected but ill elaborate on this in my next post, im currently quite jet lagged and have done more than enough writing and re-living the ordeal for one day!