Sikhs in airport 'disrespect' demo

 

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The Independent Online

Thousands of Sikhs will gather in London today to protest against harassment they say they experience at European airports.

The demonstration, in Parliament Square at noon, will be held simultaneously with others in four other capitals to protest against what Sikhs describe as intimidation and disrespect of their faith at European airports.



They say in recent months there have been growing problems at airports for Sikhs travelling from the UK being asked to remove their turbans despite successfully passing through security scanners.



The campaign is being coordinated by the Sikh Channel, a cable TV station based in Birmingham and London which broadcasts to an international audience.



Abinash Singh and his wife Balraj, from Hayes, west London, recently appeared on the channel describing their experience at an Italian airport where officials forced the removal of his turban.



Mr Singh said: "After the contribution of the Sikhs in the world wars, after the positive contribution made to European society by Sikhs, this treatment is deeply upsetting."



Today's demonstration - in line with similar protests in Brussels, Rome and Madrid which will be connected by a live link and shown on big screens - is expected to be attended by community leaders and Sikh celebrities as well as Wolverhampton MP and former adviser to Tony Blair Pat McFadden.



The group argues that there is no justified security reason for removal of turbans which have successfully passed through scanners.



It is calling on national governments in Europe to investigate the treatment of Sikhs at airports and make representations to their European partners where Sikhs are found to be abused.



A spokesman for the Sikh Channel said: "Reports from across Europe indicate that our Sikh brothers are being forced to remove their turbans at airport security.



"This is a totally unacceptable infringement of our faith, it's also totally unnecessary as turban is no different than any other item of clothing in relation to a metal detector or x-ray machine."



The demonstration will also include retired military personnel and the world oldest marathon runner, Fauja Singh, campaigners said.



Aviation Minister Theresa Villiers said: "I fully recognise the cultural and religious sensitivities surrounding the touching of a Sikh's turban, which is why this Government acted swiftly when the Sikh community expressed concern about new EU rules on the searching of turbans at airports.



"We engaged with community leaders and obtained permission from the European Commission to run a trial that is now under way at a number of UK airports.



"This trial aims to establish whether security standards can be maintained in respect of the screening of religious headwear without the need for a hand search.



"I have also written to ministers across Europe with responsibility for aviation security to explain this trial and to underline the importance the UK attaches to resolving this issue."



PA

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