By LIBBY MIDDLEBROOK
African-born Boubacar Coulibaly does not bother racing to the front of the customs line at Auckland Airport any more.
The 40-year-old Auckland man says he knows he will be one of the last people through.
"I've given up trying to get through quickly. I'm usually stopped."
Mr Coulibaly, treasurer of the African Community of Auckland Region, has been questioned and searched at least three times by customs staff during the past decade despite having no criminal history.
He is one of several people the Herald spoke to this week who have complained of racial discrimination by the airport's customs staff after being questioned for no apparent reason other than the colour of their skin.
"I get singled out all of the time," said Mr Coulibaly. "It makes you feel terrible. Lots of other [dark-skinned] people tell me they have the same problem. They shouldn't be stereotyping people. This is the 21st century."
The Auckland Airport customs office confirmed yesterday that it questioned travellers based on statistical and behavioural profiles, which sometimes included ethnicity factors. The Race Relations office is investigating a complaint about racial discrimination by the airport customs staff.
During the past two years Aucklander Margritt deMan, who has dark skin despite her European origins, has been questioned four times.
She said this week that when she returned from holidays in Melbourne, Samoa and England, her baggage was x-rayed each time despite her not having goods to declare. The Housing NZ area manager and law student, who does not have any convictions, believed there was nothing random about Customs' selection of passengers.
"I didn't really mind being x-rayed initially but after the fourth occasion it just got ridiculous," said Ms deMan, aged 34.
"I felt I was being discriminated against on a racial basis."
The honorary South African consul, Gregory Fortuin, has been detained only once by a customs officer. In Auckland about five years ago one questioned him about his passport, occupation and reasons for being in New Zealand.
Mr Fortuin said that while he did not mind being questioned, he certainly did object to Customs including ethnicity factors in its profiles.
In another incident involving Customs, a health professional, who did not want to be named, said its drug investigation unit behaved in a "racist manner" towards her Nigerian-born husband earlier this year.
The pair had just received a computer from a relation in China and the squad demanded to inspect it.
"They came around to our house after it had already been through Customs and took it to pieces. They made inferences that we shouldn't be living in Papatoetoe because it was too higher class and commented about how well my husband spoke English, which I thought was quite blatantly racist."
Customs Minister Phillida Bunkle said she did not have any information about the airport customs office that caused her concern.
She largely declined to comment on Customs' profiles because to do so would "undermine the effectiveness" of the service.
By LIBBY MIDDLEBROOK