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Muslim family’s halted Disneyland trip is raised with PM

29Labour MP Stella Creasy has called on the prime minister to challenge the US after a UK Muslim family was barred from boarding a flight to Los Angeles.
The family of 11, from Ms Creasy’s Walthamstow constituency, had planned a holiday to Disneyland but were stopped at Gatwick Airport on 15 December.
Mohammad Zahid Mahmood said his family was given no reason why US officials had refused to allow them to board.
US officials said travellers were not barred based on religious beliefs.
Downing Street said David Cameron would respond to the issues raised.
Family ‘livid’
Ms Creasy has written to the prime minister urging him to press the US authorities on what she said was “a growing problem” of British Muslims being barred from the US without explanation.
She said she had “hit a brick wall” in her own attempts to get answers from the US embassy.
“It is not just the family themselves who are livid,” Ms Creasy told the Guardian. “The vacuum created by a refusal to provide any context for these decisions is fuelling resentment and debate,” she said.
She told BBC radio 5 live she was aware of four other UK cases of Muslims who were denied entry to the US.
“Nobody knows why these people were stopped. We do know what the common denominator is between them. All of us agree we’ve absolutely got to be vigilant about tackling terrorism, and we’ve got to be clear prejudice hasn’t got a part to play in that,” she added.
Mr Mahmood, who was travelling with his brother and their children, aged eight to 19, had planned to visit their elder brother in southern California and go to the theme parks.
He said UK Border officials told them at the departure lounge that they were not allowed to board the plane, despite all having authorisation to travel under the US Visa Waiver Programme.
Mr Mahmood told the BBC: “We checked in, there were no problems. Just before the final check to get into the lounge we were singled out.
“A man from UK Border Force came and said, ‘I’m sorry you can’t board this flight. We received a call from Washington DC that we can’t allow this family to board the flight’.”
Mr Mahmood said he had educated his children “to live in this country peacefully” and had been invited to speak at local schools about Islamophobia.
He told BBC Radio 5 live it seemed like it had been a clear case of discrimination.
‘Humiliated, alienated’
The incident happened the day after more than 1,000 schools were closed in Los Angeles following an email security threat.
“Because I have a beard and sometimes wear Islamic dress I get stopped and asked questions. I feel that is part of the deal of flying. I understand that,” he said.
“The fact that we were the only ones who were of Asian or Muslim appearance, it seemed embarrassing that we were the only ones taken out of the queue. For the children to take this in is very difficult.”
He said the airline Norwegian had told them they would not be refunded the £9,000 cost of their flights.
They were also forced to return everything they had purchased at Gatwick’s duty-free shops before being escorted from the airport, he said.
He also told Sky News that the family felt “humiliated, alienated, because the way we were dealt with was just out of the ordinary. Everyone’s eyes were on us, it was embarrassing”.
Mr Mahmood also said he was refused entry to Israel eight years ago. He and another man remained at the airport until returning on a flight two days later. He added that he was not held for eight days, as has previously been reported.
‘Complete uproar’
A US Customs and Border Protection spokesman said: “The religion, faith, or spiritual beliefs of an international traveller are not determining factors about his or her admissibility into the US.
“In order to demonstrate that they are admissible, the applicant must overcome all grounds of inadmissibility.”
The spokesman also said there were 60 categories of inadmissibility, including health-related, prior criminal convictions, security reasons and immigration violations.
Immigration minister James Brokenshire said the government would look into this latest incident but ultimately the decision was up to the US authorities.
“It is for countries to look carefully at this time of heightened security at the steps that they do have in place to assure their homeland security, but obviously we will look into the points that have been flagged and respond accordingly,” he said.
Chairman of the Home Affairs select committee, Keith Vaz, said there seemed to be a growing pattern of British citizens being refused entry to the US.
“This is one of our closest allies in the world and the way we treat each other’s citizens is extremely important,” he said.
“If you imagine if an American citizen was told by a British official they couldn’t board a plane, there would be complete uproar in the United States of America.”