The Transportation Security Administration recently announced an increase in monitoring procedures in light of the attempted Christmas Day terrorist attack. College of William and Mary students traveling through countries of concern were not excluded from these procedures.
Sheetal Kini ’10 has immediate family living in Saudi Arabia. She visited them in January, but returned home by flying through India. As a result, she did not face difficulty passing through airport security.
“I usually fly to the [United States] through Bombay so I can visit the rest of my family,” Kini said. “Either that or I fly through Bahrain… because there’s more familiarity with the Bahrain airport.”
The TSA labeled the following 14 countries as either “state sponsors of terrorism” or “countries of interest” Jan. 3: Afghanistan, Algeria, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. India and Bahrain are not on this list, making them easier countries for students to visit.
These 14 nations are areas of concern, particularly regarding terrorist group affiliation. The classifications were the result of U.S. State Department collaboration with the Department of Homeland Security, in addition to various intelligence agencies.
Galley Saleh ’12, a U.S. citizen of Afghan decent, visits family in Afghanistan by flying to Qatar or Bahrain from the United States. Her family then takes a connecting flight into Pakistan, travels by taxi to the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, crosses the border on foot, and catches another taxi into Afghanistan.
“Before, we traveled like this because it’s safe,” Saleh said. “Now we do it because my cousins are living in Pakistan.”
Saleh admitted that she had never experienced notable difficulties at airports prior to the TSA policy changes. Saleh did run into trouble while traveling through the Dominican Republic this month, however, despite the fact that the nation is not on the TSA’s list. She was stopped by security guards and asked to remove her hijab, a head covering traditionally worn by Muslim women.
“I offered to take it off in the bathroom for a female security guard but they wouldn’t let me,” Saleh said. “I noticed nuns behind me who went through the line without having to take off their habits…. I told security if they brought over one of the nuns and asked us both to take off our head coverings that I would gladly take off my hijab for them. They just let me through.”
While many College students who call these countries home have yet to return to their families this school year, they may encounter heightened security measures when traveling later this year due to the new TSA policies.
“I believe that one advantage that I have over many international travelers is the fact that I am a U.S. citizen,” Maleeha Mahmood ’12, who also has family in Saudi Arabia, said. “I do strongly believe if that were not the case, I might be more questioned, or traveling might have been more of a hassle for me, like it is for others.”
Mahmood has not yet traveled since the TSA’s Jan. 3 announcement. He said that he has yet to experience any trouble when traveling to or from the United States.
Despite the extra travel required to increase her chances of returning to the country without hassle, Kini doesn’t see increased security as a problem.
“I knew they were going to implement excess security checks and scanners, but I know that Bahrain is not on that list, so I got lucky that I [didn’t] have to go through any of that trouble,” said Kini. “Security needs to cover everybody. Anyone, for that matter, any color and race and nationality, could be a threat. Terrorists could fly from any country, so I feel security should cover everywhere.”