Ethnic profiling is not used to identify those approached for checks while travelling between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, a Westminster committee has heard.
Kevin Foster Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Immigration and Future Borders, said the practice is not used and would not be effective.
He was questioned by members of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee about a claim made by a member of the Muslim community in the region that he had been the only person on a flight to London asked to provide his credentials to officials on three consecutive occasions.
The committee is currently conducting an inquiry into the experience of ethnic minority communities living in Northern Ireland.
Chairman Simon Hoare asked Mr Foster: “Where does ethnic profiling of travel from Northern Ireland to the mainland fit into your suite of policies?”
Mr Foster replied: “We wouldn’t look at protected characteristics, people shouldn’t be being pulled over purely on the basis of ethnicity, and if they are then clearly we would be keen to engage and investigate what has happened on those occasions.”
Mr Hoare said: “I agree with you, minister, that they shouldn’t be, but this is an individual who has been on the last three occasions. He happens to have a brown face, he was possibly the only person with a brown face on that flight, and on three occasions, of all the passengers on that plane coming from Belfast to GB, he’s pulled and stopped. Bit of a coincidence, isn’t it?”
Mr Foster said it was the first time the case had been raised with him and he was happy to investigate.
“We’re very clear Border Force should not use ethnic profiling, that is not an effective way of identifying those who may be a threat to this country…
“There are a range of factors that Border Force should consider – passenger demeanour, what they’re doing, are the reasons for travel credible, have they flown on an unusual journey which might indicate they are seeking to avoid immigration controls or other customs control?” he said.
DUP MP Ian Paisley contended that, as someone who often flies from Belfast to London, he is “frequently stopped and asked for my identity”, adding he “does not feel unusual”.
“I take the view that it is someone doing their job … sometimes it can go for weeks and I am never stopped and asked for ID at either Heathrow or London City, and other times it can happen two or three times in a week,” he said.
“The person we spoke to had maybe only travelled three times that year and he was particularly unlucky.”
SDLP MP Claire Hanna, however, who also travels the route frequently to attend Parliament, said she could not remember the last time she was asked for identification, adding that the man referred to was not just asked for identification, but was subjected to “more substantial questions”.
Alliance Party MP Stephen Farry said he had not been stopped “for many, many years”, but added: “Virtually everyone I speak to from an ethnic minority background in Northern Ireland does relay that they have been pulled aside much more frequently than others.”
Mr Foster was also questioned more generally on the impact of the UK’s exit from the EU on immigration checks within the Common Travel Area, which includes the UK and the Republic of Ireland.
Updated Government guidance which came into effect on October 1 phases out EU national identity cards as a valid travel document for non-CTA citizens, stating they must now present a valid passport to UK Border Force officials.
Mr Foster said the biggest change is that EEA national identity cards are no longer accepted, but Irish passports are still accepted.
“So far in the unverified management figures the position at the border has been very good with compliance rates,” he told the MPs.
“People have switched over quite strongly to using their national passport well before we required it.”
He also clarified that Irish nationals will not need to apply for the UK’s Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA), adding that it will apply for all non-UK and Irish nationals.
He added that there has been a bigger impact from Covid-19 travel restrictions at the border in terms of arrivals from red list countries and quarantine requirements.
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