Nigeria-bound passengers flay U.S. Customs, United Airlines over airport harassments
• ‘We Get Frisked For Currency, Chased With Sniffer Dogs, Detained Like Common Criminals’
• We Cannot Speak For Customs, Border Officers — Airline
Nigerians travelling home from the United States (U.S.) have alleged instances of harassment against the U.S. Customs, and United Airlines at the Dulles International Airport in Washington.
The harassment claims in the last couple of weeks, The Guardian learnt, was not unconnected with currency declaration row, and alleged entrapment of Blacks departing through the airport.
The United States, under the Currency and Foreign Transaction Reporting Act (or Bank Secrecy Act), makes cash reporting mandatory for currency and monetary instruments that are over $10,000.
The Act requires anyone entering or leaving the United States, and in possession of over $10,000, to file a declaration form with the Customs officer in charge at any Customs Port of Entry or Departure from the United States.
What Blacks, especially Nigeria-bound travellers, have noticed is the alleged refusal of United Airline to offer the declaration form to travellers at the check-in section. Meanwhile, Customs and police would be waiting for violators at the point of boarding.
A Nigeria-born scholar, who was a witness to the alleged harassment recently, described the Customs’ disposition to Nigeria-bound travellers as “demeaning and completely unacceptable”.
He narrated that it is the duty of the airline, immigration, and customs to provide the currency declaration form, and that has been the norm. The airline offers the form at their counters, but “in this case, United Airline did not give travelling Africans the opportunity to declare their currency.
“You have money in your pocket, but you are not given a declaration form, and you are cleared to travel. This has been going on for years, and people take it for granted. We all know that you can have more than $10,000, but you have to declare it. Unfortunately, they are not given you the opportunity to declare, and that is the crux of the matter.
“The main issue is that the security agents will wait until you are ready to board the plane, and like a Gestapo, they will come with their dogs and gloves, singling people out by psychology or looks. They pull them aside with their sniffing dogs.
“Where in the world do you see sniffer dogs rummaging travellers for currency? Have you ever heard of that? Their verbiage is abusive, shouting, and telling us to shut up! What! They can’t do that to any other person but Africans. I can bet my life on that. They are, therefore, entrapping these Africans for abuse. And this is not done to any national that we can see travelling overseas.”
The don regretted not having his wife in Nigeria over the same issue. “The evidence is overwhelming. It has happened to a number of people that I know, and it has also happened to my wife, and the reason she is not in the country. She missed her flight because of the harassment,
“What I don’t understand is the reason for this harassment. I have been travelling for 37 years. Many of us travelling back and forth are citizens and professionals – professors, doctors, lawyers, so we know the law. But regardless of our achievements, in the eyes of the racist guys and organisations over there, we are not supposed to be where we are,” he said.
Meanwhile, about a week after inquiry, United Airlines replied that the situation must be upsetting for the travellers, but “Please, direct your query and any complaints to that entity (U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials) as United cannot speak for them.”
Another traveller and victim of the airport harassment, Peter, vowed that both the United States’ Customs and United Airline would be made answerable for “targeting out-bound Nigerian travellers.
“Why is this happening around general elections in Nigeria? Is it an instruction from the Nigerian government, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) or the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in the midst of the currency crisis or election issues? I just don’t understand, and we will have to find out in the U.S.,” he vouched.
The businessman was disenchanted by the role of United Airlines, which he accused of not protecting its customers.
He said: “We are Nigerian-Americans that are coming home to our families in Nigeria. Why are we being singled out for harassment on United Airlines? I travel with American Airlines and others, I don’t face this harassment. They always have the forms waiting for you. So, United Airlines is culpable because it has a duty to provide the declaration forms to its customers. Its officials were there when officers were harassing Nigerians, and could not just be bothered.
“In my own case, the plane was delayed for some of those passengers to return. They treated them like garbage – going to the Customs office, getting searched, abusing them, checking their luggage, digging through stuff, and they used insulting language.
“Imagine a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of a company that hired over 60 workers being queried for $13,000 in her possession. But these are not criminals, but professionals, who earn in excess of $200,000 to $300,000 a year. It is very disgraceful,” Peter said.