Apparently I’m not really welcome in the UK

Looking back now, it makes sense that I had a bad feeling as I waited in line to be allowed entry into the UK after getting off my flight from Iceland. At the time though, I thought I was just being nervous for no reason-it’s always weird showing your passport and answering questions about your life. When my turn came, I handed the border agent my passport, and stood there, trying my best not to fidget. The agent asked me a million and one questions as every other agent let passenger after passenger pass me and head on into the baggage claim and on out of Heathrow, and as a giant knot grew larger and larger in my stomach. That  freedom would not be the case for me. After I had answered all of her questions, apparently unsatisfactorily , the officer in charge of me asked me to go sit to the side and wait because she’d decided that I needed to be seen by another officer. At this point I was already about to burst into tears. I’m very sensitive and do a terrible job of hiding my emotions when I’m scared. Eventually I was left alone-all of the hundreds of passengers from my plane and one other had gone through, and I was desperately trying to get a hold of Jon on my laptop to no avail. Then two girls who worked for the airline-who couldn’t have been older than me-came to get me. They informed me that they’d be in charge of checking my luggage because I’d been cast as unsure of entry into the UK.

At this point we went to the baggage claim, and I was flanked by the two girls. We grabbed one of my bags, but then-to add insult to injury-my other bag had been lost by the airline. I filled out some paperwork, still on the verge of tears, and finally one of my “keepers” made a call to Jon, albeit only to tell him that my luggage had been lost. At this point, I practically stole the phone from her, started crying, and tearfully told Jon that I’d been taken by immigration and I didn’t know what was going to happen and I was incredibly scared. He didn’t know what to do either, and with that, I had to give the phone back to the luggage guy.

Next up, I was taken to a small room where I watched them take away my luggage to be locked up (including my purse, which they took away from me at this point, minus the wallet that I was allowed to keep) and fingerprinted me, followed by several pictures. Beautiful mugshots, I bet those are. After all that I was left in a locked room with 3 other women from different countries, all who’d been denied entry to the UK until further examination. All were eventually denied entry completely and sent back to where they came from. One was Brazilian and spoke no English whatsoever-she rambled on in Portuguese on the payphone for periods at a time, while alternately asking the office workers questions that no one could understand. We could see through two large glass windows to their little office, while they chatted happily and we sat, unsure of our immediate future. Another older woman was Israeli and had been separated from her fiancé at the gate. She cried a lot, and also enjoyed touching my hair. The last was a Cuban girl my age who’d recently been granted an American passport and had waited for that so she could more easily take an 8 month trip around the world with her friends. She was the only one who didn’t make it through the gate in her group.

After maybe another hour or so of waiting, crying on the very uncomfortable plastic chairs, and attempting to use my credit card in the pay phone to leave a sobbing, weepy message on my dad’s voice mail (which I now know left him terrified and pacing the living room, sorry dad) and also repeatedly calling Jon’s cell so he could attempt to figure something out, another surly immigration officer came in to interview me. He wasn’t very friendly, and didn’t seem to think that I had a good enough reason to be allowed into the country-visiting your boyfriend and laying around his parents’ house for 3 months wasn’t a viable option, I guess. Before he left, after I signed off on the documents he told me ” just to be honest, it doesn’t look great for you staying, but I’ll be talking to my supervisor and we’ll see what he thinks”. He’d taken a page from my journal (they’d taken it out of my purse to read, which was incredibly embarrassing) and used it against me. The entry in question? Talking about when and how Jon would eventually buy an engagement ring and how we should both really just save money and get jobs rather than buy the jewelry. That’s a pretty terrible thing to have used against you-I felt like an idiot.

When the interview was over and the officer had left me once again in the room, I broke down again. I called Jon, who was equally upset, and told him what the agent had said-we had no idea what to do. Jon decided to keep calling the agent’s number, and see if he could get anything done.

Around one agonizing hour later, the immigration officer returned. He called me out of the room and very matter-of-factly informed me that I’d been allowed entry into the UK. I responded with a teary-eyed “Are you SERIOUS?” to which he laughed. He was pretty friendly at this point, strangely enough. The workers released my suitcase and purse to me, and the officer led me out. I told him there was no way in hell I’d come back to the airport for my other bag-I’d send the boyfriend if the airline couldn’t deliver it. Again, he laughed. He pointed me in the right direction, wished me a good trip, and as he went down the hall and out of sight, I ran as fast as I could in the opposite direction. I found my way out to the main lobby, searching for Jon, but before I spotted him there was a flash of blue to my side and then I was in his arms, weeping and he was holding me. I’d never been so happy to see him. As he wiped the tears from my eyes, he asked ” Do you want to get a drink?” to which I replied “No way-get me the fuck out of here.” We left, nearly 5 hours after my plane had landed.

The entire drive home, I couldn’t wrap my head around what happened. I’ve been to so many countries and on so many planes, and I’ve never been through anything like this. I feel terrible for people who have, and I find myself two days later still thinking about those poor women that I met in the holding room who will never get to where they were going-who may not even be allowed to enter the UK again without a special visa. The iron knot in the pit of my stomach has slowly unraveled. The airport still hasn’t delivered my lost luggage, and to be honest I’m scared that someone will change their mind and find me here at Jon’s and send me back-silly, I know, but they have all of our information, addresses, bank accounts…everything. Jon and I just keep having these moments, so thankful that we can be together now, when we were so close to being pulled apart yet again.

It was a strange way to start the summer, no doubt. Can’t imagine I’ll ever be looking to fly to the UK for a visit ever again!

ignore my face-Iceland air has most of my belongings, including everything that makes me pretty.

6 thoughts on “Apparently I’m not really welcome in the UK

  1. Ashley, you’re so hardcore! It’s surprising to me that they would deny entry to someone that obviously has had so many recent stamps in their passport from other countries. It sort of puts things in perspective though, that we as Americans can be illegal aliens like anyone else, even with such strong ties to that country. I’m glad you’re ok though and you’re safely enjoying your stay in the UK. I hope you get really rowdy and ‘pissed’ (as the Brits would say) for Independence Day and say crazy things like “this is why we rebelled” and you pour some booze on the curb for your homies that weren’t able to make it past immigration authorities. As tempting as it is to take a week and visit you this summer, I’m afraid I would be detained as well. We are both sketchy Americans with hidden international intentions, like making out with British men. Don’t forget to buy me a Big Ben souvenir for my collection!

  2. Oh crap! The same thing happened to Ha Young when she came to England last June. Although she wasn’t detained for so long, maybe just two or three hours.
    It was really weird, the guy in charge of her didn’t seem to care about all the visas in her passport, clearly she didn’t want to illegally immigrate.
    Eventually that guy ended his shift (late at night) and the lady who took over from him immediately passed her through after chatting to her, in a genuinely interested way, about all the places she’d been.
    Did you have a ticket home? If not, I’d recommend buying a cheep onwards travel ticket to the continent that you can cancel or just not take. They only care that you have made some commitment to leave.

    The worst part is nearly every other European country and even Switzerland has more or less open boarders. Next time I’d recommend just flying to France and strapping yourself to the bottom of the Eurostar like everybody else.

    Oh, have fun in England by the way. Visit Bristol, have some proper beer and get a Pieminister!

  3. Yeah, I was thinking of what had happened to Ha Young as I was going through the process-but I DID have a departure ticket that I was forced to buy in NY simply because they’d told me that the UK was sending back lots of people to their country of origin when they didn’t have one. So even with that, I got detained. Crazy stuff. I will do my best to Pieminister it up in Bristol at some point this summer. Woo!

  4. Imma get so pissed (brit style!) tonight-it’s the Us v. England soccer match for the World Cup. I haven’t decided the best way to attempt to start a fight-singing the national anthem loudly while wearing an American flag t-shirt, or just getting up in people’s faces and cheering loudly at the pub every time the US does something good. Wish you were here to help me make a scene, and to run away when I’m threatened with violence. I hear the Brit football hooligans don’t care if you’re a lady or not!

  5. Pingback: Santa Claus is comin’ to my house, my house « I Will See You In Far Off Places

  6. Pingback: Safe and Sound « I Will See You In Far Off Places

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