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UK Pledge On Sikh Turban Searches [UK]

Chaan Pardesi

Oct 4, 2008
London & Kuala Lumpur
The Government wants to stop the practice of airport security staff searching the turbans of Sikhs using their hands, a minister has said.
Transport minister Theresa Villiers said she would also be writing to her counterparts in Europe to ask them to look at alternatives to searching turbans by hand as it is deeply offensive to Sikhs.

European regulations introduced last April stipulated any Sikh who triggered a security search passing through a scanner or was selected at random would be forced to remove their turban or have it searched by hand. Ms Villiers said the Government had successfully argued with the European Commission to allow for an 18-month trial at 22 British airports which would see officials using metal detectors and special swabs to detect explosive materials. But some MPs are unhappy that airports not selected for the trial are now having to comply with the European regulations and search turbans by hand.

Tory Paul Uppal said Sikhs found the searches the "most humiliating breach of their personal privacy".

But Ms Villiers said the Government was committed to implementing an alternative once the pilot scheme finishes next year. She said: "Certainly our aim is to reach a solution which avoids public hand searching or removal of the turban. That's what we want to see happen. But we have to be certain that effective alternative screening methods are available.
"My officials have been working with the airport industry to approach the widest possible participation in the trial of these alternative screening methods but trials of this nature are voluntary. We can't compel all airports to take part but we are seeing more progress as the trial goes ahead. We are getting an opportunity to see how this technology works in practice.
"Only by testing in this way can we demonstrate and be certain that it works. It is only then, with that evidence, that we can hope to secure the change in European rules, so that we hope one day all airports will offer this alternative screening method."

Speaking in a debate at Westminster Hall, Mr Uppal said there had been problems for Sikhs flying into Italy and Poland. He said the British Government should show other European countries that there are ways of searching turbans sensitively.

”There are still extreme problems in both airports in the UK as well as all over the world,” he said. “It is my hope that the swab test is a standard test for all over Europe in the near future. ”There is new technology being developed at this time for X-ray machines to be more sophisticated than swab tests and that could make the problem a thing of the past. ”But until that happens, we must work together to increase both awareness in the Sikh community regarding their rights to ask for a swab test, as well as in airports to ensure that all passengers are treated with respect, regardless of their choice of religious dress.”

Labour former minister Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton South East) said the issue was causing “deep distress and concern” in the Sikh community. Narinderjit Singh, general secretary of the Sikh Federation, who attended today’s debate, said he welcomed Ms Villiers’ decision to write to other European ministers about the issue of searching turbans by hand. He said: “We are pleased that MPs from across the parties have taken part and expressed the concerns of the community that the turban is the most respected symbol of Sikhism and it should be respected at all times.”
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