SA teen tells of UK customs ordeal

By Janine du Plessis

A Pretoria teenager has told of his "traumatic ordeal" at the hands of British immigration officials who refused to allow him into the country to visit his sister.

Reggie Erasmus, 18, was given a choice by his father - either a laptop computer or a ticket to the United Kingdom to visit his sibling. He flew to London's Heathrow Airport last week, but instead of spending a three-month holiday with his sister he returned a day later with a blacklisted passport.

According to his father Reg, Reggie's fingerprints will be kept on record by the immigration authorities for 10 years because he allegedly tried to enter the UK illegally.

Reggie said passport control officers at the arrival counter became suspicious of his reasons for entering the country when he could not remember his sister's birth date. He was taken to a back room where spent the next 12 hours.

"The lady would hammer me with questions and then leave for an hour before coming back again. I was given documents stating that because I didn't have enough money to support my stay, they were deporting me.

"I tried to explain my sister would be hosting me and I had a bank account my parents could put money into. I was able to call my sister, who had been waiting for me at the airport for five hours. She alerted my parents," said Reggie.

Reg said it was difficult not being able to help his son. "We had no way of contacting him and the consulate and high commission could not help us.

"He can no longer travel until this misunderstanding has been reversed: his fingerprints were distributed to immigration offices around the world.

"There are discrepancies in the documents and they overlooked certain facts," he said.

Reg believes a group of immigration officials are targeting South Africans. "They say they are sick of us coming into their country and taking their jobs," he said.

Reggie felt he was treated like a criminal. "It was 12 hours before I was put on a flight back home. I was not allowed to appeal because they said I had no one to look after me, even though my sister was waiting on the other side.

"The immigration officers didn't even explain to her what the reasons for my deportation were. I don't think I was treated fairly. Two other officers said they did not agree with the official's decision.

"The last time I saw her she made sarcastic remarks about my sister," said Reggie.

British high commission spokesperson Russ Dixon said the UK's immigration rules were applied fairly but firmly to all who arrived at the country's borders.

He said people were generally refused entry if they did not meet the requirements of the immigration rules or if an official believed the traveller did not intend to leave the UK at the end of the stay.

Dixon said Reggie would not have a criminal record, but the officials would endorse his passport to indicate that he had been refused leave to enter the country.

"Should a person in this position still wish to visit the UK, it is advisable to apply for entry clearance before travelling," said Dixon.

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