Muslim Aussie denied entry to US twice, has no idea why
AMERICA will always hold a special place in Zafar's heart - the Australian was married in the US and still has family there - but he may never be able to go back.
Even before US President Donald Trump signed an executive order to tighten immigration rules, Zafar was denied entry to the US. The last time he was even pulled off the plane just before it was due to take off.
The reason? Zafar has no idea.
The 33-year-old, who is reluctant to reveal his full name in case it negatively impacts his record, got married in the US in 2009 and had also travelled to America previously.
This all changed in 2010 when he tried to visit relatives in the US with his wife.
The first time he was rejected, Zafar said the "whole situation seemed a little bit off".
"The sniffer dog just sniffed my bag and me, it didn't sniff anyone else," he told news.com.au.
Later he found out his boarding ticket was marked with what he now believes was the dreaded SSSS, referring to America's Secondary Security Screening Selection.
Usually this would have just subjected him to extra screening, and Zafar's bag was searched but despite passing this without issues, he still wasn't allowed to board the plane because US Customs denied him entry at the last minute.
Zafar said he had completed a visa waiver online and even got a printout of this, but when he checked it again at the airport after being denied entry, the status had been changed to "declined".
This meant he had to apply for a visa and undergo an interview, which could not happen for days. Zafar also had to hand over his passport so that his visa application could be sent for further processing. Eventually he waited for more than three months to be granted clearance to travel to the US.
Zafar decided to book another trip for December 2011 and even managed to board the plane before being pulled off the flight just before takeoff.
"I was sitting down reading a magazine when (they) said I've got to get off the plane," he said.
Zafar said he was told by the Delta Airlines representative that they were on the phone to US Customs and there was a "directive from Washington" advising he was "not allowed to land anywhere in the US".
"I was publicly removed from the aircraft and my wife and I were very embarrassed," he said.
Since then, Zafar has given up on trying to return to America but still has no idea why he was denied entry.
"My only guess is someone else has the same name as me and has done something wrong," he said.
"The funny thing is, America is a country that has all this technology but they can't differentiate between two people with the same name.
"I'm kind of disheartened by the whole experience and worried about trying again.
"I don't want to go over there and get locked up."
Zafar was born in Fiji but moved to Australia when he was four years old. He is Muslim but has never travelled to the Middle East and at the time had only ever been to the US.
"The second time, because I had to go back through customs and security, I spoke to them and they looked at the records, they said they couldn't see anything about why I wasn't allowed to fly, otherwise they would not have let me through," he said.
Zafar is reluctant to connect his problems with the terrorist threat but said he did feel like he was being targeted because he was Muslim.
"I would like to think otherwise but there's no really other explanation," he said.
"That's how you feel, you get associated with (terrorists) and feel discriminated against.
"It's just odd, you get made to feel like you're unwelcome when you haven't done anything wrong.
"I'm telling you I'm who I am, and you're telling me I'm not."
With Mr Trump now trying to increase security measures, Zafar said he didn't want to travel to the US anytime soon.
"I'd like to go back because I have family there," he said.
"But I'm a little nervous about going back there, you get hassled by security, by customs.
"You don't know what could happen to you.
"I'd be pretty gutsy to even attempt to go over there, I'd be too scared to even try."
In contrast to his experience overseas, Zafar said he was glad to be an Australian citizen.
"Australia is pretty multicultural, I've never had a bad experience," he said.
"Never in my life have I been treated differently because of my name, nationality or what my faith is, I'm glad we live in a country like this."