Searched For Chemical Weapons At An Airport in Istanbul By Airline Staff

It has been over a week since I returned from Turkey and I have been meaning to write this article. When I left the UK to seek employment in Turkey, I spent some time there. Since I was unable to find paid employment in the United Kingdom, I travelled to many countries to find employment.

During my time in Turkey, I was harassed by the police almost daily. Every day, I was harassed by the police, whether it was in the street, in shops, or on a bus. When I was travelling by bus to another part of Turkey, I was dragged off the bus and asked to empty my backpack. As a result of emptying my backpack, I had to display my underwear and bras. All of them were on display on the table while six male police officers surrounded me, some of whom were armed with guns. Aggressively, they requested a copy of my passport and questioned me as if I were dangerous with ulterior motives.

I was travelling around the country, exploring the less-touristy areas. As a photojournalist capturing photos is something that I like to do but apparently this poses a threat.

The police harassment felt never ending. While waiting for a bus back to Istanbul, my bus was scheduled for 8pm, but it was 3pm so I decided to write an article in a coffee shop. It was a traditional coffee shop operated by a lovely Turkish family. A very warm welcome was extended to me and I was able to access their wifi.

At approximately 7.45 pm, two police officers arrived and demanded to see my passport because I posed a security threat. Having everyone watching me and looking at me as if I were a criminal or dangerous was humiliating once again. Following their aggressive behaviour, they left. I had missed my bus at that point.

After about an hour, they returned with more police officers asking the same questions and demanding answers. Once again, I presented my passport to them. It was embarrassing and felt rather discriminatory. Shortly after four officers, two in uniform and two without uniform, arrived and asked to see my passport again. I was asked the same questions aggressively and rudely. In my explanation, I explained that I had missed my bus due to police harassment and that I was checking online to see if there was another bus I could catch later that day. There was no concern on the part of the officers, and they thought I was funny for missing my bus. I searched for a bus but none was running that day. I ended up having to book a hotel for the night.

The worst experience I had in Turkey was at the airport as I was returning to the United Kingdom. The event took place at Sabiha Gocek in Istanbul. After missing my earlier flight in the morning, I had to book another flight for the evening to Stansted airport. I left the airport and returned later in the evening. Following the check-in of my luggage, I waited to board my flight. In the process of trying to board the flight with hand luggage, three Pegasus Airline employees stopped me. “We need to check your bag”, they said. My entire bag was emptied by them. Throughout the search, wipes were swabbed on everything inside, including my cameras, my hairdryer, my laptop, and even some of my clothing.

As everyone was watching me, I asked what they were doing. I was told by a member of staff that “we are searching for chemical weapons, specifically chemical bombs” It was at this point that I was horrified and turned to the staff and said, “you have got to be kidding me,” to which she replied, “I am not kidding you.”. I was treated aggressively by the staff of Pegusus Airlines. Because I was dressed as a visibly Muslim woman, I asked if she was aware of the discriminatory nature of this. It appeared that she did not care about the search and was rude about it. Passengers looked horrified at that point and moved away from me as if I were a threat.

Not only was it embarrassing, but it was also upsetting. As someone who studied counter terrorism at Kings College London and was exposed to chemical weapons as part of the course. This entire process struck me as ironic, bizarre, and belittling.

There is no justification for the harassment that I experienced by the Turkish police or by Pegasus Airline staff. The type of discrimination I experienced negatively affects a person’s well-being. It is deeply disturbing to note that no matter how much time and energy a visibly Muslim individual devotes to integrating, it will never be enough. There will always be a question mark over their loyalty and their intentions.

There is a high level of discrimination against Muslims, particularly Muslim women. The continued assumption that Muslim women are a threat will contribute to the never-ending cycle of discrimination and targeting against them. The time has come for organisations, governments, and authorities to take note and ensure that the necessary changes are made. Having said that, enough is enough.

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