Asian MEP says he was 'treated like a terrorist while travelling'

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Indy Politics

An Asian member of the European Parliament who claims he has repeatedly been treated as a suspected terrorist while travelling has warned the European Union against moving towards a system of "ethnic profiling" following the alleged plot to blow up transatlantic planes.

Claude Moraes, a London Labour MEP, has told how he has twice been detained and subjected to a full body search at airports for "travelling while Asian". One on occasion, security staff at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris did not believe he was an MEP even though he was carrying the special diplomatic passport members are allowed.

On another two occasions, he was almost thrown off overbooked planes - once in front of fellow MEPs at Strasbourg - but staff backed down when he stood his ground. Mr Moraes insisted last night he was not seeking to complain about his own treatment and had tried to protest on behalf of many people from ethnic minorities who had suffered similar experiences. He said the issue was a "twilight zone" because race relations laws did not apply at airports and people were wary of complaining as they acknowledged the need for heightened security.

His campaign about the treatment of ethnic minorities while travelling has been backed by the Liberal Democrat MEPs Baroness Ludford and Sajjad Karim.

Writing in tomorrow's issue of the left-wing weekly Tribune, Mr Moraes says that the frequent "stops and searches" he faces are an inconvenience to him but "nothing compared" to the problems faced by ordinary people who have been "strip-searched" because of the "profiling" he says already takes place."This is not merely inconvenient. The effects can stay with the victims forever," he says.

The MEP is opposing calls by some aviation experts and airline bosses for a system of "ethnic profiling" in the wake of this month's alleged terrorist plot. He believes that in practice this would mean "taking people out of queues because they look Muslim" but is convinced that it would be a "blunt instrument" that would prove counterproductive.

Mr Moraes argues that good intelligence and policing, better aviation security and community support are the best ways to combat terrorism, while large-scale profiling would do more harm than good.

"By branding whole communities as suspect, ethnic profiling can legitimise prejudice," he says. "It can also engineer feelings of humiliation and resentment among targeted groups ... Intelligence gained from communities can dry up through lack of co-operation among the overwhelming moderate majority."

Although EU home affairs ministers rejected a formal European-wide system of "ethnic profling" at their emergency meeting in London last week, Mr Moraes is concerned that the idea is backed by France, Germany and the Netherlands. He says it already happens in Britain even though the Government opposes such a system, and the question now is whether it is extended.

His warning comes as the Government calls for a "mature" debate over immigration amid rising tension in some regions. Ruth Kelly, the Communities Secretary, is to launch a new Commission for Integration and Cohesion today, which will report next year. She will say: "Alongside the debate, we need action nationally but just as importantly in local communities themselves to build united communities and root out all forms of extremism."

Ms Kelly will acknowledge that for some communities, life in Britain feels different than it did two weeks ago. "Integration and cohesion are not states but processes. They need to be worked at, built on and nurtured," she will argue.