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News that three schoolgirls who fled to Syria to join Islamic State booked their flights through a travel agency have led to calls for the trade to be on its guard.
The girls’ families and senior Metropolitan Police officers gave evidence to MPs before the House of Commons’ Home Office Select Committee this week.
The committee was told Kadiza Sultana, 16 and Shamima Begum and Amira Abase, both 15, from Bethnal Green, paid more than £1,000 in cash to a local travel agency in east London for one way tickets to Turkey last month.
Agents immediately reacted to the news, saying the trade had a responsibility to flag up bookings of this nature to their companies and the authorities.
Mike Stones, an independent agent based in Gosport, Hampshire, said: “If we are going to be good citizens then we have a responsibility and we must not close our eyes.
“If you have girls of that age making a booking like this, then it should ring alarm bells. We have got to be vigilant.”
But he added: “I know some agents would be worried about saying something (to the authorities).”
Stones was one of a number of agencies across Hampshire which received a visit from Special Branch officers last year after a similar case of Brits fleeing the country to join IS.
Nick Davies, director of travel management company Business Travel Experts, said it was important agents were aware of this case and were given some guidance on the issue.
“Agents need to be aware that this is happening, just like they need to know about credit card fraud, and it needs to come from the agency management or governing bodies to be on our guard, with a clear policy on what to do in this situation,” he said.
Homeworker Jenny Jackson, of Travel PA, added; “If I had booked these tickets I would never have been able to sleep at night.
“I do think agents have a responsibility, but there also needs to be guidance in place. I would definitely have questioned this booking.”
Airlines have different policies on the acceptable age for minors travelling unaccompanied, but as a rule children over the age of 12 can travel alone on a flight.
The lowest fares on Turkish Airlines’ website for a one-way ticket from London to Istanbul today (March 11) was £282 per person, when checked by Travel Weekly.
Abta advised agents to liaise with airlines in relation to bookings for children and said they should contact the police if they had concerns about any bookings.
A spokesman said: “Generally, children over the age of twelve will be allowed to travel unaccompanied.
“Many tour operators have a policy that they will not accept a booking where the party leader is under 18 simply because you cannot enforce a contract against a minor.
“If members have any concerns about individual bookings they should contact their local police authority. Abta and our members will always cooperate with any requests from the security authorities both here and overseas.”
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