The Immigrant investigates the murky UK border procedures
“Cousins – but in which sense?
My cousin Gracinha and I have been related since the day I was born in Brazil nearly 34 years ago. My mother is her mother’s elderly sister, and my mother has always looked upon her as some sort of motherly figure. Gracinha and I also get along extremely well. We have always had a very strong link, and not just blood. We connect musically, intellectually, and we have similar ideologies, principles and lifestyles. Am I dabbling away too much? Well, that’s for a reason.
A few weeks ago Gracinha, who lives in Rio, visited me in London. During her stay, we flew to Spain for a few days in order to see my father, some friends and relatives. I joined Gracinha on the non-EU/EEC queue at the UK border when we flew back to the UK, in case the border agent had any questions for me (Gracinha was staying at my place and I wrote her invitation letter; I hold a British passport, while Gracinha only has Brazilian nationality). That’s when we were faced with a question that would redefine our relationship forever.
“So you are cousins – but in which sense?” – spat the immigration official on us. The question was delivered with an arrogant, authoritative and patronising look which would make Simon Cowell seem more humble and compassionate than Madre Teresa of Calcutta. Gracinha and I were left speechless, looking at each other in a mix of amusement and shock. I then replied: “we are first degree cousins”. This clearly wasn’t enough, and so Mr Border insisted: “in which sense?”. Gracinha and I paused. We genuinely didn’t know what to say. We smiled clumsily and looked at each other in perplexity. We had never asked such profound question.
Are we cousins spiritually, or perhaps philosophically? Are we earthly cousins, or do we come from different planets? Should we call our mothers? They might know the answer to this intriguing and thought-provoking question.Instead, I went on to explain: “my mother and her mother are sisters”. He then turned to Gracinha, who was standing next to me, and asked “how are you related to him”. She replied: “my mother and his mother are sisters”. To our relief, he did not ask: “sisters in what sense?”.
Mr Border then decided to lecture us, still with the same condescending look of a loveless, sadistic primary school teacher, while also grasping his hands, raising his eyebrows as high as possible (until they resembled a capital M) and pouting: “that means you are maternal cousins”. He smirked and sneered.I wondered to myself what we would be called if my father and Gracinha’s mother were related, or the other way around. Would that make us “mixed-gender cousins”? Or perhaps “framternal cousins”? I dared not ask.
At that point it became obvious to my cousin and I that the question was intentionally nonsensical and absurd, and that we were merely another victim of this Mr Border’s preposterous inquisition. There was no point in challenging the now absolute and irrevocable truth: Gracinha and I are maternal cousins.
Over the course of the 15 years since I moved to the UK, I have come across all sorts of absurd, offensive, intrusive, patronising, misleading and bizarre questions at immigration, particularly when I was with my Brazilian friends and relatives. I have always held a Spanish passport and, more recently, a British one, but this has only partly exempted me from such humiliation.This is why I decided to find out a little bit more about UK border world.
Challenging the UK Boarder
I will update you once I have received a response from the UKBA. The Freedom of Information Act states that they have 20 working days to provide me with an answer, but there are ways around it. Hopefully they will not find a legal loophole exempting them from answering it.
Many of us are dying to find out more and the happy and rosy world of the UK border procedures, and the adorable people running it.In the meantime, you too can help to expose the disrespectful and arrogant ways of UK border agents. Just share with us your UK border horror stories here!!! Share with the world the joys of being a tourist or and immigrant!