Border staff ruin UK holiday
RECEIVING a phone call from a distressed child overseas is every parent's worst nightmare - and that's just what Warwick mother Karen McKechnie experienced when her daughter Emily was detained at London's Heathrow airport.
In June Emily headed over to the UK to meet up with her best friend Amelia Holmes for a month-long holiday she had dreamt about since year 9.
But when Emily arrived at Heathrow she was told she was going to be sent home.
Jet-lagged and shaken, Emily called her mother in Australia to tell her the bad news.
"She was upset and told us she had been detained for over an hour and they won't tell her why," Mrs McKechnie said.
"Emily's handbag had been confiscated including her phone, although she was allowed to keep her wallet.
"I felt helpless and didn't know where to start, because it's a situation we didn't anticipate."
Her seat on a plane to Edinburgh, where she was to meet her friend, was cancelled.
Mrs McKechnie said the UK Border Agency thought her daughter intended to over-stay her visa and work.
"It is greatly disappointing and frustrating that Emily's material evidence was not accepted," she said.
"Emily had a printed travel itinerary with all of her accommodation and events listed.
"Most of the accommodation was pre-paid and she was to embark on an organised seven-day tour of Ireland within days of arriving in the UK.
"Emily also had a print-out of her paid return ticket to Australia."
Mrs McKechnie said she didn't know what else Emily could produce to prove she was only there on holiday.
Knowing her daughter had done nothing wrong, Mrs McKechnie went in to fight mode.
"The UK Border Control staff would not speak to me on the pay phone in the waiting room and I didn't have their direct number at that stage," she said.
"It was several hours later I was able to find out their phone number and that was the turning point to help me speak to the supervisor."
Mrs McKechnie was successful in pleading her daughter's case and Emily was able to get a connecting flight to Scotland.
But that wasn't the end of the dramas.
When Emily was detained, the UK Border Agency had cancelled her flight home - scheduled for a month later - with Qantas.
When Mrs McKechnie rang Qantas a week before Emily was to return home, she was told the cancellation had not been reversed, despite Emily being allowed to continue with her holiday.
Luckily, helpful Qantas staff worked hard to get Emily home just as the busy UK holiday period started.
Mrs McKechnie said Emily was happily back in Australia and working in the Northern Territory but she wanted to get the message out there so other young travellers could prepare themselves when heading overseas.
Mrs McKechnie said when she called all the official Australia agencies she could, she found it hard to get an answer - which left her feeling like she had no allies.
"I was eventually able to speak to a person in most cases, but the most helpful officers were from the Australian High Commission," she said.
"I gained the impression ... that young Australians are looked at under a stricter criteria and that they are detained quite often."
Another south-east Queensland woman also recently suffered the same experience but unlike Emily, she was not allowed to stay.