DUBAI: What was supposed to be a happy family adventure this summer in Georgia has turned into a horrific experience for a UAE-based Pakistani doctor and his family, Gulf News reported on Saturday.
Dr Farhana Naz Amir, 44, a longtime radiologist at a hospital in Umm Al Quwain, and his family went on a week-long trip to Georgia on July 3. It was a good vacation package for four, she said – priced at Dh6,300, including return tickets, hotel stay, airport to hotel transportation and a city tour.
“As a family, we have been to many countries including the United States, Turkey, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Qatar,” said Dr Farhana. Gulf News, adding: “It is a family tradition to go on a trip during the summer and we mainly return to Pakistan. But due to the pandemic situation, we searched for a perfect nearby country for a family vacation.
“To prepare, my kids watched different videos and checked travel blogs on various tourist sites in Georgia. We were really, really excited – I could finally take a break from my grueling hospital duty and the kids would be spending time outside after a year of online classes, ”she added.
Georgia – a country at the intersection of Europe and Asia, where vaccinated travelers from all countries can enter without any restrictions – was the best choice for Dr Farhana, her husband Amir Iqbal Tabani, 53. , and their children aged 15 and 10.
Dr. Farhana and his family followed all safe travel protocols. They took Covid-19 PCR tests and submitted valid negative results. The hotel reservation was made through the travel agency and the itinerary was ready. They arrived at the airport on time – the flight was at 1pm.
How the ordeal begins
The 3.5-hour flight to Georgia via Air Arabia went smoothly, but trouble began as soon as they reached the immigration counter at Tbilisi International Airport.
At Gulf News, Dr Farhana said: “When my husband handed over his passport and the immigration official saw it was green (Pakistani passport color) – even without opening it – the official told my husband to ‘go to a separate room.
“I thought it was just normal procedure and they took all of our passports. There were other people in the room, of various nationalities. After a while the immigration officers returned the passports of other passengers and they were allowed to continue, but we were not. We waited almost two hours and we were the only ones left in the waiting area, ”she added.
“We had no choice but to take the return flight. My children were shocked, but the greatest trauma was psychological when we felt that we were being treated like “suspected terrorists”. We didn’t get anywhere, yet before boarding the return flight our carry-on baggage was thoroughly checked.
Dr Farhana continued, “Then an officer came to us and said my husband was refused entry. Before that, we had asked my husband the purpose of our trip. He replied, “Leisure; family holidays’. “Do you have a confirmed hotel reservation? My husband said, ‘Yes’. “How much money are you taking? My husband said $ 2,000 (Dh7,300) and we have credit cards.
Dr Farhana, a primary care physician with a well-paying job, told the officer they have the financial capacity to vacation in Georgia. They had lived in the United Arab Emirates for 11 years. She is a doctor and her husband also studied medicine, but diverged into stock trading. “After more than seven hours, including travel and waiting time at immigration, we were finally told that only children and I were allowed into Georgia, but not my husband,” noted Dr. Farhana.
Dr Farhana recounted, “Even when I asked repeatedly, the immigration official did not give a reason why my husband was refused entry. The officer said we can either enter Georgia without my husband or we will all have to return to the UAE. “
Dr Farhana added, “I couldn’t think of any reason why my husband had been refused entry either. He is bearded, but there were other bearded people around who were allowed to enter Georgia. He was wearing casual pants and shirt; I was wearing a abaya and the usual scarf. We mixed well with the other tourists. But of the 300 passengers – there were Indians, Filipinos, Arabs and other nationalities – who came from the United Arab Emirates, my husband was the only one who was refused entry without any explanation ”, a- she added.
Dr Farhana continued, “We had no choice but to take the flight home. My children were shocked, but the greatest trauma was psychological when we felt that we were being treated like “suspected terrorists”. We didn’t get anywhere, yet before boarding the return flight our carry-on baggage was thoroughly checked. The immigration police wrote something in a piece of paper but they did not give us our passports and we were escorted to the departure area. We were on the same plane that brought us to Tbilisi and the crew were surprised to see us on the return flight, ”she added.
“The flight home was terrifying – flight and hotel reservations, PCR tests, money and, most importantly, precious time were all wasted. We felt disrespectful, ”said Dr Farhana.
Exhausted, lost and confused, Dr Farhana and his family arrived at Sharjah International Airport before 11 p.m. and returned home after midnight. To comfort the children and forget about their ordeal, Dr Farhana and her husband decided to check in at a hotel in Hatta, Dubai, and decided to share their story to raise awareness so that nothing like this happens again. never with anyone again. “I shared our story so that this kind of discrimination does not happen again with anyone,” she said.
More cases of refoulement of Pakistani holidaymakers
But it was not the first time that Pakistani vacationers had been turned away from Georgia. Gulf News previously referred to “humiliating hardships” after individuals and families were denied entry to Georgia “for no reason.” Several such cases have been reported in the past.
On June 19, 2018, Pakistani Abdul Haseeb Khan, 35, who was traveling with an Indian colleague, was kicked out of Tbilisi International Airport along with several other people. He said: “I convinced my friend to go to Georgia because of its visa on arrival system for UAE residents, but we were refused entry when we landed in Tbilisi. “
Malou Prado, Managing Director and Owner of MPQ Tourism at Satwa, said Gulf News: “We have promoted Georgia as a premier tourist destination and congratulate them for welcoming everyone who has been vaccinated, especially now that there are only a few countries open to international tourism.
“But these incidents of refusal of entry to certain nationalities are really worrying. As a traveler, not just as a travel agent, I think Georgia Tourism should provide clear guidelines on entry restrictions for their country. It is not good to discriminate against certain nationalities, ”she added.
In a precedent Gulf News In the story, an official at the Georgian Embassy in Kuwait had said that “people traveling to Georgia may or may not be allowed entry, according to the Home Office. But an explanation is provided to those who are refused entry ”.
According to the Georgia eVisa portal www.evisa.gov.ge, all citizens and residents of the United Arab Emirates are eligible for the visa on arrival facility. UAE residents can stay in Georgia for up to 90 days as long as their UAE residence visa is valid and validity extends until the traveler’s return to the UAE.