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Second Class Citizen

March 31, 2016

Common knowledge to Brits of Iraqi, Iranian and Syrian origin, are changes to the US Visa Waver program; namely, those who are dual nationals or who have been to these countries post-2011, other than for ‘diplomatic or military purposes’, will not be entitled to wave away the US visa application process. Dual nationals, having checked this out with the US embassy, need not mean owning a valid passport to these countries or having recently visited, but simply if you are born there, and in some cases, if you belong to parents born in Iran, Iraq or Syria.

Initially, I didn’t think much beyond the mild inconvenience of this change, knowing I’d need to apply in order to visit my (British) partner next month. Though waiting for an hour and a half (after my scheduled appointment), outside the US Embassy yesterday, I had plenty of time to reflect. Am I less of a British citizen than other Brits? Am I now a second class Brit? I felt firmly in the latter categories, assuming the British government- my own government- would have needed to approve such a change in policy. I felt unprotected, handed over by my own guardians to another’s discretion.

As I waited in one of three queues, I had an unfamiliar sense of entitlement rush through my body: I am British, I should not be here! It was doubly humiliating, chatting to others in the queue (Nigerian, Argentinian, Chinese and Malaysian) when they noted my accent, and some spotted the precious red passport in my see-through plastic envelope: ‘you are British, why are you here?!’

This sense of entitlement was juxtaposed by a much more familiar feeling of 1) anxiety, particularly in relation to the official interview- when nervous and confronted by figures of authority, I come across as incredibly dodgy (!)- and 2) compliance and acceptance. Both these are a residue of the Iraqi in me, particularly one raised under the Ba’ithist regime, or maybe more generally, developing country’s make-do attitude. I’m lucky to be in this country, I shouldn’t ask for more. Though I seem to have grown more British than I had imagined, because I do believe I deserve the rights I am promised as a fully fledged Brit!

My anger is not related to the inconvenience of queuing, which in itself is pretty harmless. This is a matter of principle: I have done nothing illegal or suspicious, to be signalled out and treated discriminately in this way. This is happening because of my birthplace, my origin and past, which presumably had been accepted and legally integrated as part of my British identity when I received my passport in 2001.

I appreciate the security threats and the refugee/humanitarian crisis, but this discrimination and alienation of Brits and Europeans minority groups cannot be a sensible solution. I can accept it from foreign countries, like waiting for some eight hours at the Jordanian-Israel border last December. Or when I had my Iraqi passport, I accepted lengthy visa processes (and rejections) from various Middle Eastern countries like Jordan, the UAE and Lebanon, as well as America and Europe. Today, my British-Lebanese friend, who has been in this country for half the length of time I have and who only received her passport last year, has more rights than I do. There is an injustice here that can be damaging on a wider social level.

My community work centres around the concept and process of integration, both personal and social. The personal encourages an individual to develop a sense of inner wholeness, particularly in relation to the different (and often conflicting) parts of her identity, e.g., Iranian origin, woman, lesbian, Muslim, socialist, pub goer, dog lover, Londoner etc. Embracing these as part of a rich and unique perspective, allows the person to be at peace with themselves, and by extension, the society they live in. Social integration is the latter, the practical and emotional ability to live side-by-side with the majority with a strong sense of belonging as part of the whole. This, as opposed to isolating herself from the majority, whilst sticking to fellow minority groups, and feeling disconnected from the whole.

That fractured existence, both on the personal and social level, I believe, makes easy prey of those young Brits (and Europeans) easily plucked and groomed towards ‘radicalisation’ by militant extremists. Those lost and misguided are lead to believe they belong, not in the country they were born and raised in, but in a foreign country. Joining a devastatingly fantastical battle between ‘them and us’ is essentially who they are, and who they should be, as they will never be accepted as part of British society. This is not just me ranting, the systemic failure to support such communities, particularly second generation migrants, has now been documented to contribute towards their demise.

Now, I’m not personally under any risk of being ‘radicalised’, and and still I wonder: How am I meant to feel integrated, as a first generation immigrant, when I am isolated from the majority and labelled under my subgroup? Why is this OK? Would it be OK if I was signalled out for being a woman? Or gay? Or Muslim? Erm, scrap the last category, as that’s already presumed in the list of countries declared dangerous…

I imagined, when I headed to the US embassy, I would go through a slightly different process, presumably as they may require more subtle security checks and more in-depth interviews, for ‘nationals of VW countries’. That I may also have accepted somehow; special cases with special treatment. This was not the case. In the end, I waited for over two hours to have a 5-minute interview, standing whilst facing an American woman behind a glass screen, with another person in the queue inches behind me. Every person I met, from security guards to this lady behind the glass, were polite and efficient. Though as I said, this is a case of principle not mere practicalities.

To the British government, I ask: how can you hand me over after you accepted me as one of your own?

From → Artistic

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