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Thursday, May 5, 2011

ENTRY DENIAL AT AN INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT

Experiencing Entry Denial at an International Airport

Travelling can be quite an adventure. No wonder we say ‘tembea uone!’ Yes, ‘travel and see!’

It is with this excitement I hardly slept last night lest I miss my early flight to a place I have never been before. But little did I know that at this moment in time I will still be ‘stuck’ at ‘home sweet home’. The experienced traveller in me could not convince airport officers to let me travel.

Of course I had a return ticket. I also had a hotel reservation. All my invitation and sponsorship letters, or rather, emails were in place. But, alas, I didn’t have that central document – the VISA!

A week earlier I went to apply for one at their Embassy. But since this is a meeting organized by arguable the largest ‘supranational’ body in the world, arrangements were made to ensure that the delegates, especially those from countries with no such Embassy, get their VISA stamped on arrival. Yet I was told the documents I have will suffice. My inquisitiveness was thus appeased.

My trip to the airport started with all the possible positive coincidences a traveler in Dar es Salaam could imagine. No traffic at the road and a sharp taxi driver. I got at the airport on time and was luckily enough attended by an officer I am familiar with. But even that could not help.

The officer had to liaise with other officers so as to make sense of my documents. I sat down wondering how come no one knows about the arrangements made by the Embassy responsible for our entry in their country and the international body that is organizing the meeting. Time, of course, was running out. But I had no doubt in my mind that someone who knows will sort it out.

Ironically, I sighed with relief when the matter was forwarded to an officer responsible for the airline named after the country I was going to. The irony is s/he was the one who actually dismissed the documents I have and went on to explain why they were not valid as if I had not understood what was written therein. But that is precisely why I went to apply for their VISA.

Up to that point I still thought I could convince and try to make him/her contact the authorities responsible in the other country. Then I had the other officer asking what s/he should do. “Yes offload him”, that was the answer. It dawned on me that I was just a part of the baggage that had been checked in and now was the time for its offloading lest it smuggles itself out of our country.

This was the first time I was experiencing such a situation. Maybe I was too shocked even to ask if the ‘buck stopped’ with this airline officer or there was someone else in their hierarchy whom I could talk to. By the time I came back to my senses the time was up. So I took my load and left.

However, leaving was not easy. That is another part I never knew about. Apparently when you are ‘offloaded’ you are a potential suspect. So I had to endure a barrage of questions from police/security officers. As I listened to their subtle queries I wondered how much I know of our international airports let alone our country. But I guess everyone there was just doing his/her job.

It was thus saddening when someone who knows better about what was transmitted to all relevant authorities about our VISA arrangements asked me whether the airline officer who denied me entry was Tanzanian. The conclusion was clear without even saying it: ‘That is why!’

Maybe that is why Tanzania misses a lot of opportunities. Probably we don’t know the importance of taking care of our very own in such a global context. Perhaps we don’t even know the importance of the movement of our people in/for the social-economic welfare of our country.

After all, as I was told much later by those who know better about our laws than me, the onus of refusing me entry into another country rests with that country and not mine. So, in essence, they could have just let me go and deal with authorities there. Yet it seems it is my very own fellow citizens who denied me. I guess it is about time now I seriously revisit our immigration laws.

So I am still here wondering how much personal and collective loss, in financial and other terms, that we have incurred because of all these misunderstandings. I can hardly blame anyone since everyone claimed to have done the right thing. Yet we all had/have to rectify what went wrong.

Everyone was indeed doing his/her job. But some were simply doing so to the letter. That is why.

© Chambi Chachage

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