Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Of travels, Visa and Colour

Naughty boy, naughty boy...I thought to myself as he gave my passport a very casual glance and then pulled me out of the queue and asked me to wait for a minute. I was among the first on the line in Doha, Qatar as they asked those on the flight to Paris to board. I then waited until all the other passengers had gone in before they checked my passport further. My passport did not have a visa for France and I duly explained that I was merely transiting to Santo Domingo, and I did not need a visa for the Dominican Republic because I was en route to Haiti, where I also did not need a visa because I was not going to stay for more than 90 days. He seemed perplexed then waved me to go through. So did he pick me out because I was black or simply because he wanted more clarification? And could I not have offered the same explanation when he first stopped me instead of making me wait all that time?
Fast forward a few hours later in Paris. Checking in and picking my boarding pass. The Air France lady does not look convinced that I should be travelling without a visa. I offer the same explanation I had offered a few hours earlier to the young man in Qatar, only that she is not buying it as readily as the Qatari did. She tells me that she does not think this is right and picks up the phone to call her supervisor. The supervisor looks at my passport then at the ticket and sadly shakes his head. He looks at me and I just shrug my shoulders before explaining, again ,that I do not need a visa to go to Haiti through Qatar, Paris and the Dominican republic. He tells me that if I am travelling through a European country I need a transit visa. I tell him that if I am only going through one European country and stopping for less than 8 hours then I don’t need a transit visa. Then he notices that I have an American visa and he sees his way out. He tells the lady that she can check me into the flight because I have an American visa, but when I get to the Dominican republic, I must buy a tourist card for US$10. He asks me whether I have US$10. I tell him that I cannot be travelling all the way from Kenya to Haiti without $10. He did not notice that my American visa was due to expire in a few time, before even my return journey (hence the reason I was taking such a long flight!).
11 hours later when I get to the Dominican Republic, a very beautiful lady at the immigration desk tells me that I don’t need to pay anything because I am on transit, stamps my passport and wishes me a nice stay in Santo Domingo.
So how many people get stranded on trips simply because some ignorant immigration or airline officers don’t really know the rules? From my experience, a lot of times immigration officers in most of the countries I have visited just stamp your passport entry or exit, they really don’t have time to scrutinize who you are and why you are entering their country. With the exception of the US of A. They are the only ones who seem trained to really check out who is getting into their country and why. In third world countries, they simply stamp. I wonder whether it will get worse now that the US are going to start profiling travellers? If you are a young man travelling from Pakistan to the US, or if your passport, like mine, shows that you have been to the Middle East and Somalia, then expect a tougher time.
For now, let me enjoy my stay in Haiti, where they immigration guy did not bother reading the immigration form I had filled. He just took my passport, looked for an empty page and stamped.

4 comments:

  1. It is called profiling of immigrants-My friend you fall into the category that has been blacklisted for thorough security clearance. One you are black, second you are traveling unaccompanied, thirdly you are only visiting for a few days..I have been there! Almost missed my flights in LAX.

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  2. i have stories for you, i have been through horrors in Europe - and some crazy experiences elsewhere. And i land in Kenya and the minister is busy talking about reducing visa fees, the tourism minister needs to visit europe [actually just transit] as an ordinary person and tell us if he will feel the same way.

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  3. Hey Louis, you need to share some of those stories!! It is indeed crazy how we make it easier for Americans and Europeans to come into our countries because they are going to spend money here, every time I go abroad I also spend money in hotels, sight seeing, buying artefacts / gifts etc. I don't see any difference.

    Oti, you are right!

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  4. Your displeasure would be better directed at the untold numbers of Africans entering Europe illegally every year. Once here they place a heavy burden on the welfare resources of our countries. In my country the majority of new HIV cases every year are from people born in Sub-Saharan Africa. It costs many thousands per year of euro to treat a single case of HIV. The vast majority of Africans in my country are on welfare despite never having contributed to the system. This means they receive free housing also. Their childrens' education also requires taxpayer funding. Finally Africans are also over represented in our prisons. It costs over €70,000 pa to keep a person in prison.
    So please blame your fellow Africans if you feel less than welcome here.

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