Juhel Miah from south Wales was removed from plane in Reykjavik despite suspension of president’s travel ban
A British Muslim schoolteacher travelling to New York last week as a member of a school party from south Wales was denied entry to the United States.
Juhel Miah and a group of children and other teachers were about to take off from Iceland on 16 February on their way to the US when he was removed from the plane at Reykjavik. The previous week, on the 10 February, a US appeals court had upheld a decision to suspend Donald Trump’s executive order that temporarily banned entry to the country from seven Muslim-majority countries.
The trip proceeded as planned but pupils and colleagues from Llangatwg comprehensive in Aberdulais were left shocked and distressed after the maths teacher, who had valid visa documentation, was escorted from the aircraft by security personnel.
Miah, 25, from Swansea, said he was made to feel like a criminal and was so worried by what happened to him that he did not eat or sleep for two days. He told Wales Online that shortly before the flight was due to leave he was approached by an official who told him he could not board the plane.
“Everyone was looking at me,” Miah said. “As I was getting my luggage the teachers and kids were confused. I couldn’t believe this was happening. I was being escorted out. It made me feel like a criminal. I couldn’t speak, I was lost for words.
“We got to the airport, and as soon as we got to check in, the lady behind the desk read my passport and then straight away said you’ve been selected for a random security check.
“She took me to the room, made me stand on a stool, take my shoes off, jacket off, checked under my foot, got a swab to brush over my hand and bag, my clothing and school hoodie. They gave me the all clear and then I went. The search was about five minutes. There were five or six people in the room, two searched me.”
“My phone battery was dying so I went to my suitcase, and that’s when I realised the padlock was missing. It had gone. I was so paranoid, I was scared, I didn’t sleep or eat for two days.”
The school booked him on to a flight back to the UK. The school party was due to return to the UK on 20 February.
The teacher’s employer, Neath Port Talbot council, has written to the US embassy in London demanding an explanation and the issue is being taken up by Welsh politicians.
A council spokesman said Miah was left feeling belittled at what it described as “an unjustified act of discrimination”. The council said the teacher is a British citizen and does not have dual nationality.
The spokesman said: “Juhel Miah was with a party from Llangatwg comprehensive who travelled initially to Iceland en route to New York last week. Mr Miah boarded the onward flight in Reykjavik on 16 February but was escorted from the aircraft by security personnel. While the school trip proceeded as planned, Mr Miah’s removal from the flight left pupils and colleagues shocked and distressed.
“The local authority understands that Mr Miah was refused permission by the United States authorities to fly to New York, despite being issued with a valid visa for travel. Mr Miah is a popular and respected teacher at Llangatwg comprehensive school. He is a Welsh Muslim.
“We are appalled by the treatment of Mr Miah and are demanding an explanation. The matter has also been raised with our local MP.
“No satisfactory reason has been provided for refusing entry to the United States – either at the airport in Iceland or subsequently at the US embassy in Reykjavik. Mr Miah attempted to visit the embassy but was denied access to the building. Understandably he feels belittled and upset at what appears to be an unjustified act of discrimination.”
In its original form, the order temporarily suspended all travel to the US for citizens of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and Libya for 90 days. The order was put on hold by the courts and a revised version has not yet been signed though it is understood from a draft that the same seven countries will be targeted in it.
It also drew attention to a statement made by the foreign secretary Boris Johnson at the end of last month in the House of Commons, when he said: “We have received assurances from the US embassy that the executive order will make no difference to any British passport holder, irrespective of their country of birth or whether they hold another passport.”
The council said Miah’s experience casts serious doubts on whether either of the statements could be relied upon.
Neath Labour AM Jeremy Miles said he was appalled to hear about the incident. He said he would be raising the issue with the Welsh government to ask them to make representations to the British government.
The Foreign Office is aware of the case. A spokeswoman said: “We are providing support to a British man who was prevented from boarding a flight in Reykjavik.”
There was no immediate response from the US embassy in London.