The Home Office has apologised and paid £2,000 to a woman who claimed she had been racially discriminated against by an airport immigration officer, the Northern Ireland Equality Commission has said.
The black woman, a British citizen, alleged she was stopped by the officer who then asked for identification and told her she “looked foreign”.
The incident unfolded at George Best Belfast City Airport after the woman dropped her mother-in-law off for a flight.
The mother-of-two lives in Northern Ireland, having previously lived in England.
“I thought then, and I still think now, that I was stopped because I am black,” said the woman, who asked not to be identified.
“I wasn’t travelling, or passing through an immigration point, and I am a British citizen. I was doing what many other people do without incident, dropping off my relative for her flight.
“One of my children has asked me if we now have to carry our passports everywhere with us.”
The case, which was taken with the support of the Equality Commission, was settled without admission of liability by the Home Office.
The woman said she and her children were forced to stand around in a public concourse of the airport while the officer radioed through to colleagues to check her immigration status.
The woman said, when she was first approached and asked to produce her passport or ID, the officer told her she “looked foreign and not from here”.
The mother said she explained that she was not an air passenger and was only there to drop off her mother-in-law. She was eventually told her immigration status was ok and she was allowed to proceed.
“I’ve worked in the UK for 16 years, the most recent two of them in Northern Ireland, and I was really upset by this incident and the way it was handled by the Immigration Service,” she said.
“It has had a negative and unsettling effect on my family as well as on me. I am grateful for the support we received from the Equality Commission and I hope this case helps ensure that the same thing doesn’t happen to somebody else.”
Dr Michael Wardlow, chief commissioner of the NI Equality Commission, said he found the case “extremely disturbing”.
“In effect it has left a woman feeling she has been singled out and had her identity questioned in full public gaze,” he said.
“And if a person feels, as this woman did, that they are singled out because of their skin colour, it can be particularly upsetting and humiliating – as it was for our complainant and her children, who witnessed the event.
“Our complainant makes a valuable contribution to Northern Ireland society and it is quite simply unacceptable that she feels she was challenged in a public place only because of the colour of her skin.
“It is simply unacceptable that people continue to be stereotyped by virtue of their race, gender or any other similar personal characteristic. It is vital that we challenge such simplistic stereotyping of people.
“The irony of this case is that this woman doesn’t feel she can be publicly identified because of the fear of negativity or intimidation. She accepts however, that as the issue raises matters of national concern it needs to be made public.
“The Equality Commission will give advice to anyone who feels they may have been treated unfairly and we can assist people to challenge discrimination in the courts and tribunals.”
The Equality Commission said: “The Home Office, in settling the claim without admitting liability, has apologised to the woman for any offence caused.
“It has also recognised the hurt, distress and offence caused to her by subjecting her to questioning in these circumstances and in the manner of investigation of her complaints.
“It has affirmed its commitment to equality of opportunity and has undertaken to ensure its practices and procedures conform with the Race Relations Order.”