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, an American appeals court had upheld a decision to suspend Donald Trump’s executive order that temporarily banned entry to the country from seven mostly Muslim countries.
The trip proceeded as planned but pupils and colleagues from Llangatwg comprehensive in Aberdulais were left shocked and distressed after Miah, described as a popular and respected maths teacher, was escorted from the aircraft by security personnel.
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, who had valid visa documentation, 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. Whilst the school trip proceeded as planned, Mr Miah’s removal from the flight left pupils and colleagues shocked and distressed.”
The spokesman continued: “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.”
Miah has since returned from Iceland. The school party was due to return to the UK on 20 February.
Trump’s travel ban was unveiled at the end of his first week in office. While the White House insisted that he was fulfilling a campaign promise to toughen vetting procedures for people coming from countries with terror ties, the order caused chaos at airports in the US and sparked protests across the world.
In its original form, the order temporarily suspended all travel to the US for citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries 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 – Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and Libya – will be targeted in it.
Neath Port Talbot council pointed out that UK government advice states: “We have confirmed with the US government that British passport holders (regardless of country of birth or whether they hold another passport/nationality) aren’t affected by the executive order.”
It also drew attention to a statement made by the foreign secretary Boris Johnsonat 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.
There was no immediate response from the US embassy in London.